Evan Lysacek

Evan Lysacek will not compete at Sochi Olympics (video)

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Evan Lysacek will not defend his Olympic figure skating title.

Lysacek, 28, was unable to recover fast enough from a torn labrum in his left hip to qualify for the Sochi Olympics, he said on TODAY on Tuesday morning. The Chicago Tribune first reported the news overnight, saying Lysacek would not compete at all this season.

“It’s very difficult for me to say that, but my road to Sochi ends here,” he said. “A lot of what played into that decision was my doctor warned me that if I continued to train, with 100 percent certainty, the injury would get worse. The pain would get worse every single day, and I could be doing permanent and severe damage.

“This has been my whole life, so it’s a difficult decision for sure,” said Lysacek, who got choked up in interviews with TODAY and The Associated Press. He told the AP the pain was “like you’re being electrocuted.”

Lysacek is not retiring. He will refrain from skating until the injury is completely healed, which could be several months, according to U.S. Figure Skating. Surgery is an option, according to the AP.

“Right now my focus has to shift from training, preparing for Sochi, to getting healthy and trying to heal this injury once and for all,” Lysacek said. “The last several weeks have been so painful for me that I don’t want those to be my last moments on the ice after such a great career. I love to represent my country, and I’m determined to be healthy and skate again and really be the one that decides when it’s over.”

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Since he hadn’t competed since winning gold in 2010, Lysacek needed to enter an international figure skating event before the U.S. Championships in Boston from Jan. 10-12 in order to be eligible to compete in Sochi in February.

Lysacek, his agent and U.S. Figure Skating said for two months that they were working to find a competition to enter in November or December.

All of the entry deadlines for those events had passed by Nov. 15. The final event, the Ukrainian Open, said last week it would accept an entry as late as Tuesday for its Dec. 18-21 competition. But Lysacek was unable to get fit in time, even for the extended deadline.

Lysacek’s career through the years

The announcement capped a run of injuries, illnesses and absences between Olympics. In 2010, Lysacek became the first U.S. man to win Olympic figure skating gold since Brian Boitano in 1988.

He took the 2010-11 season off after finishing second on “Dancing with the Stars.” He began training for 2011-12 but pulled out of Grand Prix assignments due to a disagreement with U.S. Figure Skating.

He was set to return at Skate America in 2012, only to withdraw with a groin injury. He had sports hernia surgery in November 2012, which caused him to miss the U.S. Championships in January.

On Sept. 30, Lysacek revealed at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit he suffered a torn labrum in his left hip falling on a quadruple toe loop at Champs Camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Aug. 21.

Lysacek said he was skating better than he had been at the 2010 Olympics before the injuries.

“From the beginning, I was very clear with my doctors as to what my goals were, to be 100 percent healthy and prepared for Sochi, and before that to compete in December in a qualification event,” Lysacek said. “My doctors took an aggressive course of action with treatment and physical therapy. We all remained very optimistic. In fact, I had no doubt that I would overcome this, just like I had the other injuries that I had throughout my career.”

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On Oct. 28, Lysacek said he was doing triple jumps in practice, but apparently he was not able to get back to full strength in time for a qualifying event.

“As the training intensified, so did the pain,” he said. “It’s become, in recent weeks, unmanageable.”

Lysacek was bidding to become the first man since American Dick Button to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles. Button did so in 1948 and 1952.

Lysacek’s announcement comes two months after the retirement of his longtime U.S. rival, Johnny Weir. His international rival, Russian Yevgeny Plushenko, is expected to compete in Sochi.

But the Olympic gold-medal favorites are Canadian Patrick Chan, who took silver behind Lysacek at the 2009 World Championships, and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who beat Chan at the Grand Prix Final last week.

The two-man U.S. Olympic Team will be named after the U.S. Championships. Contenders include reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron, world junior silver medalist Jason Brown, two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon and 2010 Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

Olympic figure skating team event qualifiers set

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

“You know what makes me happy? This is done. Now we’ve done it, we’ve beaten them and put it to rest,” Walsh Jennings said, according to USA Volleyball.

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

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Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team