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

Max Aaron retires from figure skating

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Max Aaron, a national champion and Skate America winner, has retired from competitive figure skating.

Aaron, 26, ends his career as the only Skate America men’s winner not to compete in an Olympics. He is one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to compete in an Olympics, along with Ryan Bradley and Rudy Galindo.

“Of course, becoming an Olympian, or having an Olympic medal would have been great to say, ride off on my white horse, but having the ability to say that I have no regrets in my entire career of figure skating, for me that is my gold medal,” Aaron said Thursday night.

Aaron, a former top USA Hockey developmental player, also figure skated growing up to help with his skating skills as one of the smaller players on his team.

He stopped playing hockey at 16 due to a broken vertebra but continued full-time with figure skating. By 2012, Aaron considered quitting figure skating after placing eighth at nationals (one year after being U.S. junior champion) and being told he wasn’t artistic enough.

But Aaron kept with it and completed a remarkable bounce back the next year, winning the U.S. title and setting himself up as a favorite to make the 2014 Olympic team.

But Aaron ended up third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. The two Sochi Olympic spots went to Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown.

Aaron continued, becoming the first U.S. man to win Skate America in six years in 2015 and topping the short program at the 2016 U.S. Championships before ultimately finishing second to Adam Rippon.

Aaron plummeted to ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships, coming back from offseason hernia surgery, but returned to the Olympic team radar last fall with a personal-best free skate at Cup of China, including three landed quadruple jumps. He went into the 2018 U.S. Championships ranking third among American men for the season.

But Aaron was again ninth at nationals, missing the Olympic team. He was called on to compete at last month’s world championships as the third alternate after Rippon, Ross Miner and Brown all passed.

Aaron had stopped skating and instead was training for a triathlon. He went to worlds in Milan on two weeks of training and finished 11th, a result that helped the U.S. keep three men’s spots for 2019 Worlds. Nathan Chen won the world title, but Vincent Zhou was 14th. The U.S. needed its second man to be 12th or better to go along with Chen’s first place to ensure three spots next year. Aaron reportedly said at worlds that it may have been his last competition.

Aaron said he’s started a job with Merrill Lynch.

“It’s really been a great ride. I have no regrets,” he said. “That’s one thing that I always told myself, in sport, in life, I want to have no regrets, and I can honestly say, with the help from my coaches and friends, that I have no regrets in the sport.”

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Martha, Bela Karolyi speak on Larry Nassar case (video)

Martha Karolyi, Bela Karolyi
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Former USA Gymnastics national team coordinators Martha and Bela Karolyi said they knew nothing about Larry Nassar‘s alleged abuse in an interview that airs on an hourlong NBC News “Dateline” special Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Star U.S. gymnasts, among more than 100 who said they were sexually abused by the convicted Nassar, said they were abused at the Karolyi’s ranch in Texas during national-team training camps.

“That’s awful, but I would say even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who was violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad,” Martha Karolyi told Savannah Guthrie in part of the interview that aired on TODAY on Friday.

How could the Karolyis not have known about the alleged abuses committed at their property?

“Yes, but if you couldn’t suspect anything, I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this — and the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?” Martha Karolyi said.

“The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding, boom,” Bela Karolyi said.

Martha Karolyi led the national team for 15 years before retiring after the Rio Olympics. She told Guthrie that in “no way” did she suspect Nassar was sexually abusing athletes.

The Karolyis have been named as co-defendants in several civil lawsuits filed against Nassar and USA Gymnastics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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