Davis/White best Virtue/Moir by slimmest of margins, lead at GP Final

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On rages the battle between the two best ice dance teams in the world. Friday at the Grand Prix Finals in Fukuoka, Japan, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White squeaked out the narrowest of margins against rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, taking the lead after the short dance, 77.66 to 77.59.

“Wow,” remarked White in the Kiss and Cry after the scores came in. “So close,” replied Davis.

It’s the Americans who have dominated this rivalry over the last few years, winning the World Championships in 2011 and 2013 after the Canadians had captured gold at the Vancouver Games. Davis/White are going for their 15th consecutive Grand Prix gold medal, a record in the sport.

In the pairs short program, the favorites prevailed in what was a flurry of high-octane skating, one team putting out a show-stopping performance after the other. It was reigning world champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov who skated into the lead, scoring a 82.65. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the Germans, were second with a 79.46.

Volosozhar/Trankov have appeared unstoppable this Grand Prix season, registering the two highest scores as no team has come within 25 points of them. But the Russian gold-medal favorites were forced to deliver as the final pair skating Friday after five teams put out season-best performance’s in Fukuoka.

There was less pressure on Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, who appear to be in a class by themselves. Even with four near-flawless dances before them, the top two teams enjoyed a margin of nearly nine points. Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev of Russia were in third, scoring a 68.90.

Davis/White and Virtue/Moir recorded the two highest-ever scores for a short dance, besting Davis/White’s mark from the 2013 World Championships of 77.13.

The Americans and Canadians train with one another and share the same coach in Detroit, an unusual arrangement that they feel brings out the best in both teams.

“I think that having such talent alongside of you that Tessa and Scott have every day in training and in competition does nothing but push Charlie and myself further,” Davis said. “It makes us want to be a better team every day.”

In pairs, Pang Qing and Tong Jian, the Vancouver silver medalists, were third after the short program, scoring a 75.40. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford turned in their season’s best 73.07 to secure fourth place.

The Russians had struggled with their throw triple loop in the warm-up, Volosozhar double-rotating it at one point and two-footing another landing. But there was no trouble for them in a session that saw no falls on throws or side-by-side jumps.

Savchenko/Szolkowy, the four-time world champions and 2010 Olympic bronze medalists, were given a one-point deduction for a time violation, widening the gap between them and Volosozhar/Trankov.

Volosozhar/Trankov are looking to become just the fourth pairs team to win back-to-back Grand Prix Final gold medals. The last to do so? Savchenko/Szolkowy in 2010 and 2011.

Davis/White are looking for their fifth straight Grand Prix Final win.

Hanyu, Asada lead after short program at Grand Prix Final

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

Mondo Duplantis
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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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