FIVB World Championships

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

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order