World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White continued their march toward the Sochi Olympics by easily winning Skate America, while a Japanese man was untouchable in the free skate in Detroit on Saturday night.
Davis and White, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, extended their ice dancing lead after Friday’s short program at Joe Louis Arena, posting the highest free dance score to total 188.23 points. Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were well back in second with 168.49.
Japan’s Tatsuki Machida cruised to the men’s title, beating second-place American Adam Rippon by 24 points.
Skate America concludes with the pairs and women’s free skates Sunday. NBC and NBC Live Extra will have coverage from 4-6 p.m. Eastern time.
Davis and White, who have worked with “Dancing with the Stars”‘ Derek Hough on choreography, skated to “Scheherazade.” The Michigan natives competed in Detroit for the first time in over 10 years.
“It’s a little bit daunting,” Davis said as White pointed to the crowd from the kiss-and-cry area. “It’s always nerve-racking competing in front of the people you love most.”
They were in a class of their own, .15 off their personal best in international competition.
“Every time I see these two take the ice, I just have to sit back and marvel,” 2006 Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin said on Ice Network. “These two never disappoint.”
Davis and White are the U.S.’ top medal hope in figure skating at the Sochi Olympics. They’re looking to reverse the 2010 Olympic podium, where they took second to Canadian rivals and training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
Virtue and Moir make their Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada next week. Davis and White’s next Grand Prix assignment is NHK Trophy in Tokyo, Nov. 8-10 (without Virtue and Moir).
The other U.S. ice dancers entered, siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, finished third and fourth.
Alex fell to the ice in the early seconds of their Michael Jackson free dance, which was otherwise refreshingly energetic.
They’re vying with U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates for spots on the U.S. Olympic team, which will include three total ice dance couples.
The U.S. Olympic team will be chosen after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January.
The men’s champion at Skate America is no sure thing to make his Olympic team. Japan is the deepest singles figure skating nation in the world, and Machida wasn’t on its three-man team for the World Championships in March.
“It’s very hard to get an Olympic spot in Japan,” said Machida, who skated to “Firebird,” the music Evan Lysacek used for his short program at the 2010 Olympics. “We have so many good skaters.”
Machida boosted his status by beating more accomplished Japanese men Daisuke Takahashi (fourth, 236.21) and Takahiko Kozuka (sixth, 230.95). Japan’s No. 1 skater, Yuzuru Hanyu, wasn’t at Skate America.
The U.S. Olympic team picture is also jammed for two available spots, though some order was restored Saturday.
U.S. champion Max Aaron finished third behind Machida and Rippon, moving up from sixth after the short program Friday. Aaron attempted three quadruple jumps — falling on one, putting his hand on the ice on another and perhaps having a two-foot landing on the third.
His score, 238.36, was the same as his total at March’s World Championships, where he placed seventh.
Rippon, the world junior champion in 2008 and 2009, took silver for his first Grand Prix medal in three seasons. He fell on his only quad attempt in the free skate and popped a triple axel.
Then there’s Jason Brown, in second place after the short program in his Grand Prix debut. Brown struggled in his free skate.
He does not have a quad in his program, and he fell on his toughest jump, a triple axel. Brown, who made the field as a replacement for the injured Lysacek, dropped to fifth place overall.
Three different U.S. men — Jeremy Abbott, Josh Farris and Ross Miner — are scheduled for Skate Canada next week.
Ice Dance Results
1. Meryl Davis/Charlie White (USA) 188.23
2. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) 168.49
3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) 154.47
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) 152.98
5. Cathy Reed/Chris Reed (JPN) 136.13
6. Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (FRA) 135.70
7. Isabella Tobias/Deividas Stagniūnas (LTU) 134.67
8. Julia Zlobina/Alexei Sitnikov (AZE) 133.76
1. Tatsuki Machida (JPN) 265.38
2. Adam Rippon (USA) 241.24
3. Max Aaron (USA) 238.36
4. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) 236.21
5. Jason Brown (USA) 231.03
6. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) 230.95
7. Alexander Majorov (SWE) 208.72
8. Artur Gachinski (RUS) 208.16