Tatsuki Machida

Japan’s Machida routs U.S. men at Skate America; ice dancers make history

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Again, U.S. men were outperformed at Skate America. Again, a Japanese man walked away with the gold.

Tatsuki Machida breezed to the first repeat men’s Skate America title in 13 years on Saturday night after U.S. Olympians Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott‘s error-filled free skates.

A Japanese man has won Skate America eight of the last 10 years.

Earlier, U.S. ice dancers went one-two at a Grand Prix event for the first time ever. Sochi Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani held their positions from Friday’s short dance.

Machida became the first man since Tim Goebel (2000, 2001) to repeat as Skate America champion. The World Championships silver medalist landed two quadruple jumps in his free skate (video here) and totaled 269.09 points, a whopping 34.92 ahead of second-place Brown. Machida, who led after the short program Friday, won by 24.14 last year.

A U.S. man has won Skate America once in the last 11 years — Evan Lysacek in 2009. Machida’s winning margin broke Lysacek’s record for biggest rout in Skate America history (under the new scoring system implemented in 2003). The current U.S. men’s drought matches the longest in history in America’s biggest annual international competition.

In the free skate, Brown fell on a triple Axel and put his hand on the ice on another jump (video here). But he moved ahead of Abbott and placed three spots higher than at 2013 Skate America, which marked his Grand Prix debut as a replacement for Lysacek.

Abbott, a four-time U.S. champion, stayed on his feet but botched a few jumps and totaled 219.33 (video here), dropping from second place to fifth.

Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan fell on his opening quadruple jump. He was fourth, behind Canadian Nam Nguyen.

In the ice dance, Chock and Bates tallied 171.03 points for their first Grand Prix event title. The Shibutani siblings had 160.33. Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis were eighth and ninth, respectively, in Sochi.

No other couple in the Skate America field had finished better than 14th at an Olympics or World Championships.

The top four couples from the Sochi Olympics are not competing together this season, including Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Skate America concludes with the women’s free skate Sunday (NBC, 4-6 p.m. ET).

Gracie Gold in third after Skate America short program

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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