Meryl Davis, Charlie White will not defend Olympic ice dance title

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NEW YORK — Meryl Davis and Charlie White will not compete next season, meaning they won’t defend their Olympic ice dance title in PyeongChang.

“It’s still really weird to say that out loud,” White said, adding that they’re not retiring. “I’m not really sure what tone to use. It’s not like we’re celebrating it. It’s a little bit disappointing, but at the same time, it’s nice to finally come to a decision.”

Davis and White, who both turn 30 years old this year, haven’t competed since Sochi while still skating in shows and exploring other opportunities, many of them products of becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance gold medalists.

The decision not to defend their Olympic title was nearly three years in the making for a couple that started skating together at ages 9 and 10 in 1997 in Michigan. From 2009 on, they captured six straight national titles, two world titles and an Olympic medal of every color.

“Since Sochi, we’ve been giving it a lot of thought, a lot of time,” Davis said, sitting to White’s right on the mezzanine level of a Midtown Manhattan hotel. “It always felt like the right direction to be moving in.”

In June 2014, Davis and White announced they would sit out the 2014-15 season. In March 2015, they said they would extend the break through the 2015-16 season. Then last October, they said they wouldn’t skate in the 2016-17 season.

Davis and White trained together in Michigan and skated together in shows around the world the last three years. They will continue to do so at least through the spring on a Stars on Ice tour.

“People ask me now at competitions, do you wish you were out there?” Davis said. “After giving it a lot of thought, I always say, no, I feel really good about the capacity I’m here in right now. I think that was really telling for me.”

White agreed. He pointed to the freedom of not feeling forced to make a decision.

“Recognizing what it takes to be at the top of your game, and having done that for so long, the stresses and the pressures and the expectations,” he said, “countering that with continued growth in new and fun and exciting areas.”

Davis and White took up commentating, most recently at the U.S. Championships last month. White choreographed a program for one couple at nationals.

“We’re not missing out on so many of the wonderful things that ice dancing has to offer [by not competing], pretty much besides the grueling training and competition,” White said.

Both could also finish their undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan.

And White wants to devote more time to his marriage with 2006 Olympic silver medalist ice dancer Tanith White, a broadcaster for NBC Sports.

For now, the final image of Davis and White skating off competition ice was as the first American ice dance gold medalists in Sochi. More U.S. couples could replicate that success, but Davis and White will always be atop the list.

“The mantle of being the first, we proudly wear,” White said. “I don’t want to take away from it, but we did it on the back of everyone else. It was a group project.”

Davis and White have closely followed the ice dance scene in their break. They witnessed the rise of French couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, a comeback by Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir that White called “inspiring” and U.S. couples earn the last two world silver medals.

Last year, Virtue and Moir ribbed Davis and White, their former training partners, while on tour about possibly joining them in coming back.

“I think we would have fit in [the competitive landscape],” White said. “It’s not a question. It didn’t enter into our thought process. Not because we’re so supremely confident in our talent, but because if we were to come back, we know that we would have done so with the intention of giving it 110 percent, as we always did. For us, we know that if we can be as prepared as possible, then we’ll always have a shot do well.”

Even if they never compete again, Davis and White plan to stay very involved in figure skating, hoping to be at next year’s national championships and the PyeongChang Olympics in non-competitive capacities.

“We’re still absolutely in love with our sport,” Davis said. “We don’t take the opportunity lightly to be able to do what we love for a living.”

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VIDEO: Nathan Chen declares Olympic aspirations in 2010

Nathan Chen holds off Yuzuru Hanyu for Four Continents title

Gold medalist Nathan Chen of the United States waves during the medal award ceremony for the men's free skating at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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Nathan Chen, the 17-year-old U.S. champion, faced the pressure of skating after Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu with a gold medal at stake on Sunday.

He met it, bagging the biggest title of his young career at the Four Continents Championships.

Chen did so at the 2018 Olympic venue, and with minor jumping mistakes, boosting hopes he can prevail at worlds next month and again in South Korea next year.

Chen landed five quadruple jumps — matching his record for a free skate — to total 307.46 points, the highest in the world this season.

Hanyu landed four quads — with a costly double Salchow, as he did in the short program — for 303.71. Another Japanese, Shoma Uno, took bronze with 288.05 points. Full results are here.

“There were some mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who became the first American to outscore Hanyu at an event in more than five years. “There are definitely things I need to work on, but I’m certainly happy with the way everything went.”

Hanyu skated before Chen and put down the highest free-skate and total scores in the world this season, despite those Salchow errors, and still more than 25 points shy of his world record from last season.

“A mistake is a mistake, and I ‘m happy I was able to show almost everything,” Hanyu said.

Chen, the last skater to go, waited to take the ice while several kids cleaned the ice of Winnie the Pooh bears tossed by adoring Hanyu fans. This has become routine when Hanyu skates.

“With the whole Winnie the Pooh situation, it’s something that I can’t change, but it was something I was expecting,” Chen said.

If Hanyu was near his best, he still beats Chen — for now — but Chen must have known that with a strong free skate, he could overcome the less-than-perfect Hanyu. Chen had a 6.08-point cushion over a flawed Hanyu from Friday’s short program.

Chen’s free skate was marvelous, but not quite his jumping showcase of the U.S. Championships in January. He turned out of one of his five quad landings and also had negative execution scores on both triple Axels (one in combination).

“I tried five quads today, and I landed three of the five solidly,” Chen said. “The other two were a little shaky, so that’s something that I need to improve on for worlds.”

Still, Chen scored 204.34 points for the free skate — his best in international competition by nearly seven points — after Hanyu tallied 206.67.

It’s the biggest win for a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek‘s Olympic title in 2010. The Four Continents field included every single Olympic medal contender except for two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

The victory marked the latest step in Chen’s incredible ascent since the start of 2016. He is fulfilling promise — and then some — since becoming the darling boy of the 2010 U.S. Championships.

In January 2016, Chen took bronze at nationals at 16, becoming the youngest man to finish in the top three since 1973.

He suffered a season-ending hip injury in the exhibition later that day but came back in the fall to beat Hanyu and Fernandez in the Grand Prix Final free skate, taking silver overall.

Last month, Chen shattered U.S. Championships scoring records en route to becoming the youngest U.S. men’s gold medalist since 1966.

Those last two competitions made Chen a world and Olympic medal contender. Now, he must be considered a medal favorite and a gold-medal contender going into worlds in six weeks, especially given the exceptional Hanyu’s inconsistency.

Hanyu sat off stage when Chen’s score came up Sunday afternoon. He learned it, scrunched his eyes and cupped his cheeks.

“Before going on to the podium I looked at Nathan,” Hanyu said, “and I felt envious. I wanted to win.”

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Mirai Nagasu earns bronze with personal best at Four Continents

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Mirai Nagasu isn’t going to the world championships, but it sure looks like the U.S. team could use her next month.

The 2010 Olympian earned bronze at the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, setting new personal-best free-skate and total scores.

Nagasu, in her ninth season of senior international competition, tallied 132.04 and 194.95 points, respectively, at the world championships and Olympics tune-up event.

“To have all those months of training come to fruition is why work hard and why I keep coming back,” said Nagasu, who just missed the 2014 Olympic team. “When these moments happen, it’s so exciting and so gratifying. It just validates my reason for training hard every day, doing programs even when I don’t feel like it and getting up when I fall.”

Japan’s Mai Mihara took gold with 200.85 total points, improving from fourth after Thursday’s short program. Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the short-program leader, held on for silver with 196.91 points.

Nagasu, who was fifth after the short program, had the second-best free skate score behind Mihara and earned her second straight Four Continents medal after silver in 2016. She landed seven triple jumps in a clean program.

“The bronze means more to me,” Nagasu said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The performance I was able to put out tonight was just amazing. It felt magical.”

Full results are here. NBC will air coverage at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Nagasu finished fourth at the U.S. Championships last month, missing the three-woman worlds team. Two of the three women who beat her at nationals were also at Four Continents.

U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell finished sixth on Saturday, 17.85 points shy of Nagasu, while U.S. champion Karen Chen was 12th, 28.13 points behind Nagasu. Both Bell and Chen, who have few accolades internationally, spoke afterward about nerves at Four Continents.

“Not exactly how I wanted it to go,” Bell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “There were a few pretty big mistakes, but overall, this was the most pressure I think I’ve had in an event.”

U.S. silver medalist Ashley Wagner skipped Four Continents, as she usually does, to prepare for worlds next month in Helsinki.

The top two U.S. women at worlds out of Bell, Chen and Wagner must have placements that add up to no greater than 13 for the U.S. to earn the maximum three entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. Say, sixth and seventh place.

That likely won’t happen if Bell and Chen repeat their performances from Four Continents, given this week’s competition didn’t include skaters from Europe.

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