Olympic medalists return to sand at beach volleyball worlds

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A look at the field for this week’s beach volleyball world championships in Stare Jablonki, Poland, reveals how much shuffling has gone on since the London Olympics.

Start with the women. Neither Misty May-Treanor nor Kerri Walsh Jennings are competing. May-Treanor retired after the pair won their third straight Olympic gold medal in August.

Walsh Jennings, 34, who had her third child after London, plans to make her 2013 FIVB debut with new partner April Ross at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif., beginning July 22 on NBC, NBC Sports Network and Universal Sports.

Ross, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist with Jennifer Kessy, is in Poland. She’s playing with Whitney Pavlik after Kessy withdrew due to hip and Achilles problems. The duo swept their three pool-play matches to reach the round of 32, which begins Thursday. The other U.S. pairs are No. 22 seed Lauren Fendrick and Brittany Hochevar, No. 28 Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweat (those two pairs meet in the round of 32) and No. 39 Summer Ross and Emily Day, who also advanced out of pool play. The women’s semifinals and final are Saturday, streamed live on Universal Sports.

The 2011 world champions, Brazilians Larissa and Juliana, are not in Poland to defend their title after Larissa retired in 2012 to start a family. That leaves Chinese Xue Chen and Zhang Xi as the most accomplished pair of the 48 teams in pool play. Xue and Zhang, the No. 2 seed because a host-nation pair automatically gets No. 1, won bronze at the 2008 Olympics and at the 2011 worlds and were fourth in London.

A U.S. women’s team has medaled in seven of eight world championships since their debut in 1997.

On the men’s side, these are the first worlds without Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser together since 2003. Dalhausser announced their amicable split in September.

“At some point, teams reach their peak and have nowhere else to go and trickle down on the other side of the peak, and that’s where we were at in the process,” Dalhausser told Presidio Sports in September, one month after the 2008 Olympic champs surprisingly fell in the London Olympic round of 16. “Losing sucks, and I felt like making the change.”

Another reason for the split, at the time, was that Rogers, 39, was reportedly done playing internationally. So much for that.

He’s at worlds with new partner Ryan Doherty, the tallest player in minor-league baseball history as a 7-foot-1 pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks system six years ago. It was Rogers, nicknamed “The Professor,” who helped transform the 6-9 Dalhausser into the “Thin Beast,” one of the world’s most feared attackers.

Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal are the No. 3 seed and 2-0 so far in Poland, and Rogers and Doherty are No. 17 and 1-1. The top seed is a Polish pair, and No. 2 is the Brazilian defending world champions Alison and Emanuel, the silver medalists at the London Olympics. The reigning Olympic champions, Germans Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann, are not at worlds. Brink is out with a reported thigh injury, and Reckermann has retired.

The other U.S. teams are No. 4 Jake Gibb (Rosenthal’s Olympic teammate) and Casey Patterson, who are 1-1, and No. 33 Nick Lucena and John Hyden (0-2). The men conclude pool play Thursday, and their semis and finals are on Sunday, when NBC will have coverage from 2-3:30 p.m Eastern Time.

Walsh set to return to beach with new partner

Simone Biles becomes honorary Houston Texans cheerleader

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The NFL’s Houston Texans may not be having the greatest season on the football field, but that hasn’t stopped one famous diehard fan from cheering them on.

On Sunday, Simone Biles took her fandom to the next level by debuting as an honorary Texans cheerleader before the team’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

game day feels ❤️ so excited to dance at the Houston Texans Game!

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officially ready for game day now that I got my legendary red boots 🏈

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As an added bonus, she also found time to take a few photos with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a 7-foot center who once starred for the Houston Rockets.

This isn’t the first time that the Olympic gold medalist has teamed up with her hometown Texans. In 2016, Biles had the honor of announcing one of the team’s draft picks, and in 2015, she made this memorable entrance onto the field after a pre-game introduction.

Julia Marino, Jamie Anderson close in on Olympic snowboard team spots after second U.S. qualifier

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Julia Marino is within striking distance of qualifying for her first Olympic team. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is even closer.

Marino, who won four X Games medals in slopestyle and big air competitions last season, unleashed a frontside 720 and her signature cab double underflip to take second place in big air at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, the second of five qualifying events for the U.S. snowboard slopestyle and big air team.

Anderson, who received high marks for her cab 900 but lower scores for her frontside 720, finished off the podium in fourth. Because she and Marino were the only Americans to reach the final at Copper though, Anderson still received a valuable haul of Olympic selection points and maintains the lead in the overall rankings.

Although Marino’s cab double underflip received the highest score of the competition, riders in big air are scored on their two best tricks. That enabled Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi to take the win with a pair of solid jumps that included a backside 1080. Silje Norendal of Norway finished on the podium in third behind Iwabuchi and Marino.

In order to be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle and big air snowboarding team, riders must have a minimum of one podium finish at the selection events. If more than three riders attain podium finishes, then the tiebreaker will come down each rider’s two best results.

Marino and Anderson have both fulfilled the minimum criteria for automatic selection. Either of them could clinch spots on the Olympic team for both slopestyle and big air by finishing as the top U.S. rider at any of the remaining selection events. The next event will be a slopestyle contest next week in Breckenridge, Colo.

Meanwhile, the men’s big air competition had the potential to shake up the U.S. Olympic rankings, as none of the podium finishers from the first selection event reached the final at Copper.

After a disappointing result in that first qualifier, which was held at Mammoth Mountain last winter, Chris Corning bounced back to finish as the top American in this contest and second place overall. He landed a frontside 1440 and a massive backside triple cork 1440 on his two jumps, putting his own stylish twist on both tricks with melon grabs.

Corning, the 2015/16 World Cup champion in slopestyle, has emerged as perhaps the U.S. team’s top hope for an Olympic medal this year in both men’s slopestyle and big air, events typically dominated by riders from Canada and Norway. Now that he has his first selection event podium under his belt, he can clinch a spot on the Olympic team by finishing as the top American at any of the remaining contests.

Also earning a podium result with a third-place finish was 19-year-old Chandler Hunt, who has suddenly added his name to the U.S. Olympic discussion.

The victory in men’s big air went to Norway’s Mons Roisland, who stomped a switch backside 1620 and a frontside 1440 tail grab on his jumps.

Three more selection events for the slopestyle and big air team still remain, and all three will be slopestyle events. Dew Tour will host a selection event next week in Breckenridge, then there will be a break until Olympic qualifying resumes in January with competitions at Aspen and Mammoth.

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Results

Men’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Mons Roisland (NOR), 182.75
2. Chris Corning (USA), 177.25
3. Chandler Hunt (USA), 159.00
4. Ryan Stassel (USA), 154.50
5. Max Parrot (CAN), 121.50

Women’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Reira Iwabuchi (JPN), 169.25
2. Julia Marino (USA), 160.25
3. Silje Norendal (NOR), 156.75
4. Jamie Anderson (USA), 151.50
5. Sina Candrian (SUI), 135.50

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Red Gerard, 1400*
2. Chris Corning, 1200*
3. Chandler Hunt, 1160*
4. Kyle Mack, 1000*
5. Judd Henkes, 1000

Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Jamie Anderson, 1800*
2. Julia Marino, 1600*
3. Hailey Langland, 1300*
4. Jessika Jenson, 1050
5. Nora Healey, 950

*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.