Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, an ice dance preview

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SOCHI, Russia – American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White already have Olympic bronze (from this year’s team event) and silver (from the 2010 Vancouver Games) medals, and Sunday they set out for the missing – golden – piece at the Sochi Games.

But standing in their way are 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Canadians who share a coach and train alongside Davis/White, making their Olympic showdown one of the most anticipated match-ups of these Games.

RELATED: Davis/White vs. Virtue/Moir rivalry breakdown

After splitting the first two World Championships crowns following the Vancouver Games, Davis/White have seemed to inch ahead of Virtue/Moir, not losing in nearly two years, coming in as reigning world champions and easily taking the ice dance portion of the team event last week.

While the battle for the gold medal promises to be fierce and dramatic, so too will the ensuing fight for the bronze in the ice dance event inside Iceberg Skating Palace, which gets underway on Sunday and concludes Monday night.

Rivalry Renewed
After not competing against one another for nearly a year, Davis/White and Virtue/Moir have battled twice in the last 10 weeks, though the outcomes have been vastly different score-wise. At the Grand Prix Final in December, the Americans barely edged out their foes, setting a world record en route to their record 16th Grand Prix gold medal.

But last week in the new Olympic team event, Davis/White won going away thanks to errors in both the short and free dances from Virtue/Moir, winning by a margin of 10 points.

“We were very proud of the way that we skated in the team event,” White told reporters at a press conference Thursday. “The perfectionists that we are, we’re looking forward to putting out performances that can top what we did in the team event.”

Davis/White have often been called America’s “most assured gold” of these Games, though the skaters disagree with that.

“The great thing about ice dancing right now is that it’s a true sport,” White said. “It’s very competitive; there is a lot of great talent that can rise to the top. You have to skate great if you want to go out and win, and that goes for every team. All we can do is worry about going out and skating our best. There’s no shoo-in.”

The American duo – as well as the Canadians – has skated together since they were kids. Davis/White say they have no issue with being the favorites.

“We’ve worked hard to earn that right,” said Davis, who is a year older than White at 27. “We’ve worked hard to be in the place that we are in now. We wouldn’t have put in all that work to get there if it wasn’t where we wanted to be. We feel like we’re in a great spot.”

American Prospects
The American ice dance team as a whole is in a great spot after years of not being part of the international conversation. Madison Chock and Evan Bates said they were inspired by compatriots Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto’s silver medal at the 2006 Games. Only a duo since 2011, Chock/Bates were seventh at the World Championships last year and have two U.S. silvers behind Davis/White at Nationals.

Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani round out the American ice dance effort, having won bronze at the World Championships in 2011. The Shibutanis skate to a Michael Jackson medley for their free dance, a program that has been a crowd favorite this season.

The Battle for Bronze
While Davis/White and Virtue/Moir are expected to fight it out for the top of the podium just as they did in Vancouver, the battle for bronze should be equally as fierce, led by two teams that have won World Championships third-place finishes over the last two years.

Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev are four-time reigning national champions and skated to third place in the team short dance segment, ahead of French veterans Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, a team that has two European Championships to its name – in 2011 and 2012 – as well as the 2012 World Championships bronze.

Also to watch? Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the Italians who won their first European Championships gold last month in Budapest. Virtue/Moir’s teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fifth at the World Championships a year ago, but are getting on the ice for the first time in Sochi Sunday night. A second Russian team, Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, could factor in, as well, having skated to a third-place finish in the free dance of the team event.

The Russians will have home-ice advantage and an eager crowd after it was silenced during the men’s singles event when sole Russian entrant Yevgeny Plushenko pulled out with an injury prior to its start.

Bobrova/Soloviyev and Ilinykh/Katsalopv both have the experience of skating on the Iceberg ice in the team event and – as we saw in the team and pairs event – the crowd can certainly play a role in buoying the Russian skaters.

Closing Thoughts

Do Davis/White expect to win gold after their two years of unrivaled success?

“It’s not something we really think about,” White said. “If that moment comes then maybe we can enjoy it. Right now we want to put out a memorable performance. That’s what we’ve been preparing for our whole season in practice. We’re not preparing to win a gold medal, but instead to do something on the ice that we’re proud of and can remember forever.”

Lindsey Vonn gets bad luck, Mikaela Shiffrin misses gate in super-G

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Neither Lindsey Vonn nor Mikaela Shiffrin made the podium, but Swiss Lara Gut notched her first victory Sunday since a major knee injury.

Gut, the 2016 World Cup overall champion who tore an ACL in February, topped a World Cup super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, by .14 over Italian Johanna Schnarf.

Austrian Nicole Schmidhofer was third. Full results are here.

Vonn dropped to sixth, .37 behind, dropped a couple of expletives in the finish corral and posted on social media afterward that she caught her strongest wind gust in more than 400 career starts.

“I’m not mad; I’m just a little bit frustrated,” Vonn said. “Sometimes this happens in ski racing where the races aren’t really fair. The wind comes. The light comes. The clouds come. But I tried my best. I’m happy with my skiing. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t very lucky today. Hopefully I can get some of this luck and take it with me to February [and the Olympics] and get some better conditions.”

Vonn placed second and first in downhills in Cortina on Friday and Saturday, confirming she’s a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist next month.

Shiffrin was off her line early in Sunday’s run and eventually missed a gate, screaming out of frustration.

She is still cutting her teeth in the speed events of downhill and super-G and was third and seventh in the previous two races.

“The problem was with my [pre-race course] inspection, and I’m not exactly sure what we can do for me to be better prepared for super-Gs,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “One of my biggest issues right now is still switching from the timing of downhill turns to super-G turns.”

Laurenne Ross became the sixth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for the Olympic team thanks to a previous top-10. Ross, the second-best U.S. speed racer behind Vonn last season, came back from blowing out her right knee in a March 27 crash.

The World Cup moves to Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday for a giant slalom, where Shiffrin will be favored (full Alpine season broadcast schedule here).

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2018 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team General Manager Jim Johannson dies at 53

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Jim Johannson, the general manager of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, has died on the eve of the Pyeongchang Games. He was 53.

Johannson passed away in his sleep Sunday morning, according to USA Hockey. Executive director Pat Kelleher said the organization is “beyond shocked and profoundly saddened” by the loss of the Rochester, Minnesota native.

“As accomplished as Jim was in hockey, he was the absolute best, most humble, kind and caring person you could ever hope to meet,” Kelleher said in a release. “His impact on our sport and more importantly the people and players in our sport have been immeasurable. Our condolences go out to his entire family, but especially to his loving wife Abby and their young daughter Ellie.”

Johannson’s role in selecting this year’s Olympic team was his most high-profile job in a career spent in hockey. He also played for the U.S. in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

The United States faces Slovenia in its Pyeongchang opener on Feb. 14.

“There are few like Jimmy,” said Ron DeGregorio, chairman of the board of USA Hockey. “Our sport was so lucky to have him. He was as good of a person you’ll meet and he played such a significant role in helping move our sport forward. Today is a tough day for everyone.”

Johannson began working for USA Hockey in 2000 after spending five years as the general manager of the Twin Cities Vulcans in the United States Hockey League. He was promoted to assistant executive director of hockey operations in 2007, overseeing the organization’s efforts in fielding teams for international competition.

He played college hockey at Wisconsin and helped the Badgers win the NCAA championship as a freshman. He was selected by Hartford in the seventh round of the 1982 draft, but never played in the NHL.

“When we heard of JJ’s passing, we are reminded of what an enjoyable person he was to be around, and also what he meant to USA Hockey and hockey worldwide,” Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who have a strong connection to USA Hockey, said in a release.

“We should all strive to do our jobs and treat people as JJ did. Jim Johannson, you have moved on, but you will not be forgotten. We will miss you.”

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