French repeat as World ice dance champions; U.S. gets two medals

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron became the first ice dance couple to repeat as World champions since 2007, while Americans earned silver and bronze in Boston on Thursday night.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who last year became the youngest World ice dance champions in 40 years, posted the highest-scoring free dance in international competition under a scoring system implemented in 2005.

They easily distanced U.S. siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani by 6.03 points and Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 8.69.

“We didn’t expect these high marks at all,” Papadakis said. “It took us a moment at the end of our program to realize what we have achieved, and I still can’t believe it.”

The French also topped the short dance at TD Garden on Wednesday, capping a comeback from Papadakis’ August practice fall and concussion. She still experiences headaches.

Their total score, 194.46, marked the second-best under the current system. Only Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s 195.52 from the Sochi Olympics was better, but Davis and White did cede their free-dance world record.

“I could not be happier to pass that along to them,” White said on Icenetwork.com. “I was just in awe the entire program. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The top three went unchanged from the short dance.

The U.S. earned multiple medals in a single event at Worlds for the first time since 2011, when Davis and White took gold and the Shibutanis bronze in the siblings’ first season as senior skaters.

The Shibutanis had not earned an Olympic or Worlds medal since, bottoming out with a ninth-place finish in Sochi but re-emerging with their best performances this season. They won their first U.S. title in January and the Four Continents Championship in February.

“We’ve been able to really weather out this journey,” Maia said.

Chock and Bates earned their second straight Worlds medal after silver in 2015, when Papadakis and Cizeron overtook them in the free dance.

“Last year was the first time that we had ever been in medal contention at a World Championships, and I don’t think we really knew how to handle it very well,” Bates said. “Looking back, I don’t think we skated our best free dance. With that said, I think today we did skate our best free dance.”

The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates had scores in Boston that would have won the 2014 and 2015 World titles.

The U.S.’ third couple, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, placed sixth. It’s the first time the U.S. put three couples that high at a Worlds since 1955.

It continued a U.S. ice dance renaissance. In 2005, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the nation’s first World ice dance medal in 20 years.

Four different U.S. couples have combined to win 12 medals at the last 12 World Championships, while the U.S. has totaled seven medals overall across men’s, women’s and pairs in the same stretch.

The ice dance field is about to get stronger with the return of 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir next season. The Canadians haven’t competed since taking Sochi silver behind Davis and White, who also have been out since the Olympics but haven’t announced whether they will return.

Virtue and Moir used to train with Davis and White in Michigan but will be taught by new coaches in their comeback — Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal.

Dubreuil and Lauzon’s star pupils? Papadakis and Cizeron. They’ll have to share.

“It’s going to be another challenge for us,” Papadakis said.

The World Championships continue Friday with the pairs short program and men’s free skate with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: Meryl Davis, Charlie White wait for right feeling for possible return

World Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 194.46
SILVER: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188.43
BRONZE: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 185.77
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 176.81

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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