Meryl Davis, Charlie White

Meryl Davis, Charlie White take first dance toward record title

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White began what’s expected to be a record-breaking weekend with the highest short dance score in U.S. Championships history on Friday.

Davis and White posted 80.69 points for a 7.28-point lead over a hopeless field at TD Garden in Boston. They’re on pace to earn their sixth straight national title on Saturday, breaking a tie with four past couples who won five championships.

“I think that today we really reached a comfort level with this program that we haven’t achieved in competition so far,” Davis told reporters. “We feel really confident.”

U.S. Championships schedule, broadcast times

The reigning world champions who haven’t lost anywhere in almost two years put up a fast-paced but flowing dance to “My Fair Lady.”

Davis and White could plunge in the free dance Saturday and still be named to the U.S. Olympic Team, which will include three couples overall.

The two next highest couples in the standings are expected to join Davis and White in Sochi. After the short program, that would be Madison Chock and 2010 Olympian Evan Bates and siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani

Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis have been the top U.S. ice dancers behind Davis and White this season.

Chock and Bates posted a personal-best 73.41 points for second place. Bates finished 11th at the 2010 Olympics with partner Emily Samuelson, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in September 2010 and changed partners to Chock in summer 2011.

They were second at the 2013 U.S. Championships behind Davis and White and won two bronze medals in international Grand Prix events this season.

Chock skated with sore shoulders after taking a hard fall in practice Thursday, crashing into the boards.

“Our coach just said, ‘Skate to win,'” Bates said. “He wants us to be pushing upwards toward Meryl and Charlie.”

The Shibutanis, who have skated together for 10 years, scored 68 points after struggling on twizzles during a jazzy dance to Michael Buble.

The affectionately known ShibSibs are the 2011 world bronze medalists and haven’t finished lower than third in their three senior-level U.S. Championships appearances.

“It definitely wasn’t our best,” Alex said. “We left some points out there.”

The top couple looking to move into the top three Saturday will be Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who placed fourth and third at the last two U.S. Championships. They’re 1.31 points behind the Shibutanis.

Short Dance
1. Meryl Davis/Charlie White — 80.69
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 73.41
3. Alex Shibutani/Maia Shibutani — 68.00
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 66.69
5. Alexandra Aldridge/Daniel Eaton — 63.71
6. Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti-Schmitt — 61.22

Plushenko changes mind about Sochi

Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban