Heather Richardson

Strange DQ as Heather Richardson, Shani Davis qualify for Sochi (video)

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Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe can make plans for Sochi. Shani Davis is looking good, too.

The three biggest stars of US Speedskating headlined the second day of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Saturday.

Richardson and Bowe went one-two in the 500m. That put Richardson on her second U.S. Olympic Team and all but assured Bowe’s first Olympic berth. Sugar Todd and Lauren Cholewinski took third and fourth and are likely going to Sochi, too.

Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist over the 1000m and 1500m, took fourth in the men’s 500m, an event where the U.S. can enter a maximum of four skaters in the Olympics.

Winner Mitchell Whitmore clinched his second Olympic berth. He’ll likely be joined on the Sochi roster by second-through-fourth finishers Tucker Fredricks, Brian Hansen and Davis.

Jonathan Garcia initially posted a fast enough two-run time to place fourth, knocking out Davis, but did not wear a time-recording ankle transponder in his second 500m, where he clocked 34.85, which would have been a personal best by .29 of a second.

“I know that I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s something nobody can take away from me.”

That time was wiped out. Garcia reskated and was slower, finishing sixth.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Davis said, according to the AP. “I remember the special feeling I had when I went [to the Olympics] the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and take the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. He’s a friend of mine. I want the best skaters to go. If someone is clearly faster than me, I want them to go. It’s just unfortunate that rule worked to his disadvantage.”

Davis is technically not assured of making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 500m yet. He could also drop the event altogether given he’s more focused on the 1000m and 1500m.

A maximum of 10 men and 10 women can make the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team, but the U.S. has more than 10 Olympic spots combined across all distances.

If stars like Richardson, Bowe and Davis qualify in multiple events at trials through Wednesday, it will help the U.S. stay at or under the 10 men and 10 women maximum and ensure the second, third and fourth finishers from Saturday go to Sochi.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with 1000m races Sunday (NBC, 3 p.m.).

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials preview, schedule

Richardson, 24, won the women’s 500m with a two-race total of 1:14.19, which was 1.32 faster than second-place Bowe. Cholewinski (1:16.18) and Todd (1:16.42) beat out three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz (1:16.54) to likely make their second and first Olympic teams, respectively.

“It’s really special this time because of all of us inliners here, together,” Richardson said on NBC. “I grew up skating with Brittany and Lauren. To qualify for the Olympics together is really a special moment.”

Todd would not be the first “Sugar” to compete in the Olympics. Hungary’s István Sugár ran the men’s 4x100m track and field relay at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, according to sports-reference.com. There’s also the great boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who won gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.

Richardson and Bowe are expected to make the Olympic team in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Paired together, Richardson was .51 faster than Bowe in their opening race Saturday, all but sealing her title.

Richardson, 24, has been the fastest U.S. woman in the 500m each of the last five seasons. She’s the reigning World Sprint Champion (combining 500m and 1000m results) and has made three of eight World Cup 500m podiums this season.

Richardson grew up cherishing Cheerwine and skating inline in High Point, N.C., before switching to ice in 2007. She posted the best individual finish of any U.S. female speed skater at the 2010 Olympics, sixth in the 500m.

She was thought to be the biggest and perhaps only hope to end a U.S. female speed skating Olympic medal drought dating to 2002. Then Bowe came along.

Bowe, 25, spent the 2010 Olympics playing basketball in Boca Raton, Fla., a senior starting guard for Florida Atlantic. She also joined the inline invasion and could share the Sochi podium with Richardson.

“Heather’s definitely one of my inspirations to come over and try to pursue my Olympic dream,” Bowe said on NBC.

The clear favorite for Olympic 500m gold, however, is South Korea’s reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion Lee Sang-hwa, who broke her own world record three times this season.

Bowe and Richardson are expected to go head to head again at trials in the 1000m (Sunday) and the 1500m (Tuesday), two distances Bowe is better in than the 500m.

Whitmore, 24, is going back to the Olympics after winning with a two-race time of 1:09.12 on Saturday. Fredricks was second at 1:09.44 followed by Hansen (1:09.85) and Davis (1:10.21).

Whitmore placed 37th out of 38 finishers in the 2010 Olympic 500m. His chances in Sochi are looking up now that he owns the American record in the 500m and has finished no lower than 15th over eight World Cup races this season.

Fredricks, 29, made his third Olympic team. His international results have been hit or miss. His best Olympic finish is 12th, but nobody was faster at the opening World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta, in November.

Hansen and Davis are better in the 1000m and 1500m, which they are slated to skate Sunday and Tuesday.

If Davis does not skate the Olympic 500m, he would go into defending his 1000m gold medal without any prior Olympic competition on the Sochi oval. In 2006 and 2010, he warmed up for the Olympic 1000m by skating the 5000m and/or the 500m.

The Olympic men’s 500m could be wide open given eight different men won World Cup races this season.

Comeback story of Olympic trials

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.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia

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