Charlie White, Meryl Davis

Meryl Davis/Charlie White dominate at Skate America; Japanese wins men’s title

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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.

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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 AbbottJosh 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

Men’s Results
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

Intense attention on Mao Asada

Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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