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

Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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