Marcel Hirscher

Marcel Hirscher adds slalom globe to World Cup overall title

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Austrian Marcel Hirscher won the World Cup Finals slalom and with it the 2013-14 discipline title in the last race of the season Sunday.

Hirscher came into the finale with a five-point lead on German Felix Neureuther, whose giant slalom finish Saturday denied Hirscher the season title in that discipline. American Ted Ligety won the giant slalom crystal globe instead.

On Sunday, Hirscher led Neureuther by .06 of a second after the first of two runs on a course deemed unfair by the German team director and “ridiculous” by Ligety, according to The Associated Press.

Hirscher would go last in the second run on the Lenzerheide, Switzerland, course. Neureuther went right before him and laid down the fastest two-run time. Hirscher needed to beat Neureuther to win his second straight slalom crystal globe.

“Maybe 10 seconds before I was starting out of the starting gate, I asked my physio about Felix, was he in front,” Hirscher said. “Yeah, he is.”

Hirscher lost his lead and was dead even with Neureuther after the final split but picked up .76 of a second over the final 20 seconds. He won comfortably.

The Austrian crossed the finish line and dipped into a sitting position over his skis, wagging both index fingers in the air. Despite that, he said he wasn’t totally confident during his run.

“I never expect that I am that fast,” Hirscher said. “I made a lot of mistakes. … It was a big surprise for me.”

Hirscher’s victory meant that all five crystal globes went to the same men as last year. Hirscher also won the overall title for the third straight year, becoming only the fourth man to do so.

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal won the downhill and super-G titles again. Ligety won his fifth giant slalom title in seven years.

Hirscher, who won Olympic slalom silver, enters next season with a great chance to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles.

He’s only 25, perhaps not having reached his peak yet. His closest competition in the overall, Svindal, is 31 and had a poor finish to this season. Svindal won no medals at the Olympics.

Ligety finished 12th Sunday and fourth in the overall standings after taking third last season. He’s said he wished his slalom was better this year, giving him something to work on before next fall.

Lenzerheide Slalom
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:07.74
2. Felix Neureuther (GER) 2:08.50
3. Mario Matt (AUT) 2:08.82
4. Stefano Gross (ITA) 2:09.64
5. Markus Larsson (SWE) 2:09.96
6. Axel Baeck (SWE) 2:10.02
7. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 2:10.20
8. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 2:10.23
9. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:10.51
10. Ivica Kostelic (CRO) 2:10.64
12. Ted Ligety (USA) 2:10.89
18. David Chodounsky (USA) 2:13.14
DNF. Bode Miller (USA)

Final World Cup Slalom Standings
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) — 565
2. Felix Neureuther (GER) — 550
3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) — 454

Final World Cup Overall Standings
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) — 1,222
2. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) — 1,091
3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) — 1,028
4. Ted Ligety (USA) — 991
5. Felix Neureuther (GER) — 813
6. Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) — 657
7. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) — 639
8. Bode Miller (USA) — 633
9. Matthias Mayer (AUT) — 602
10. Patrick Kueng (SUI) — 562

Video: Ligety wins GS season title in dramatic fashion

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