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.”

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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