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Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross end partnership

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Five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings is looking for a new partner — and a new beach volleyball tour — after rejecting an exclusivity agreement with the AVP that would have locked her into the circuit through the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

In her first public comments since breaking with the biggest, richest and longest-running domestic tour, Walsh Jennings told The Associated Press on Thursday that the deal lacked the vision to grow the game and was “a death sentence for our sport.” Among her complaints: an eight-stop circuit, with what she called minimal growth in prize money or the number of events, dooming athletes to live with their parents or take full-time jobs to support themselves.

“We’re being kept in a small little fishbowl,” Walsh Jennings told the AP. “I know our sport deserves more. We’ve been told we’re small, and we believe it.”

AVP owner Donald Sun declined to respond to the comments. But when Walsh Jennings missed the deadline to sign before this week’s season-opening Huntington Beach (Calif.) Open, he told the AP: “I respect her decisions, and I wish her well.”

The decision to opt out of the AVP tour also means Walsh Jennings will split with April Ross, her partner in Rio de Janeiro when they won the Olympic bronze medal. Walsh Jennings won three straight gold medals with Misty May-Treanor, who retired after the London Games.

Walsh Jennings and Ross could continue to pair up on the international tour, where teams earn points to qualify for the 2020 Games, but that would mean maintaining separate partnerships domestically and abroad. Ross’ decision to sign the deal means she couldn’t play in the competing National Volleyball League, which lists four 2017 events on its website.

Walsh Jennings said she was disappointed the partnership had to end. Asked if the two could get back together before the qualification period for the Tokyo Olympics begins in 2019, she said, “April and I are finished. We’re not competing together anymore.”

“I have a ton of respect for April,” she said. “I just have a different vision for the future.”

With its party atmosphere dropped into picturesque backdrops like London’s Horse Guards Parade and Rio’s Copacabana Beach, beach volleyball emerges every four years as the darling of the Olympics. (The bikinis don’t hurt with the TV audience, either.)

But the sport’s efforts to establish a stable U.S. tour have left it running in the sand.

Beach volleyball athletes have quarreled with USA Volleyball, arguing that the national governing body’s efforts were skewed toward the indoor game. The AVP twice declared bankruptcy, and since emerging from the second reorganization it has found itself in competition with the NVL, even though all agree that one, stable tour would be best for the sport. And, when the NCAA considered adding beach volleyball to its list of sanctioned programs, among the opponents were indoor volleyball coaches who were afraid of losing their top athletes to the sandier, sexier side of the sport.

Walsh Jennings, who has been at the forefront of many of these fights, said her goal remains to do what’s best for her sport. As its most visible and marketable athlete, at least in the United States, she is able to make a living by relying on endorsement deals others don’t have.

“I am in a blessed position,” she said.

Walsh Jennings also said her objection to the deal has nothing to do with a lawsuit she has filed against the AVP, claiming breach of a personal services contract, or with a dispute over rule changes that led her to boycott an event last summer.

“I know my intentions are pure,” she said. “And this is not about not being grateful. This is about knowing there’s more and better out there. I believe in the sport. I believe in the sport at the highest level. That’s what I’m going after. It’s all there for the taking.”

And, she said, she couldn’t bring herself to sign a deal that would hold the sport back.

“I want to believe in what I’m doing,” she said. “I believe in what I’m doing much more than if I had signed this contract.”

Walsh Jennings, who would turn 42 during the Tokyo Games, repeated that she is not retiring and is still determined to attend her sixth Olympics. Asked what’s next, she said: “I get myself a partner; I don’t know who that’s going to be. That’s exciting for me, to grow toward Tokyo.”

And, while Ross and most of the other American professionals are opening the season in Huntington Beach, Walsh Jennings was off to the NCAA beach volleyball championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

“I figured I’m not playing this weekend,” she said, “so I want to go support the good stuff.”

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Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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Mo Farah on Oregon Project allegations: ‘I’m sick of it’

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — As he prepares for what could be his final track race on U.S. soil, Mo Farah remains dogged by doping allegations surrounding his team.

The British Olympian will race the 5000m Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic, the only U.S. stop in the elite Diamond League series (NBC, NBC Sports Gold from 4-6 p.m. ET).

Farah has said that 2017 will be his last year on the track, with an eye on the world championships in London this August. The 34-year-old plans to transition after that to marathons.

Farah defended his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the Rio Olympics last August, becoming the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth last December.

But at a news conference for the Prefontaine, Farah faced questions about allegations that paint his team, Nike’s Oregon Project, in a bad light.

Details have emerged from a 2016 report prepared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on practices by the team, led by decorated U.S. marathoner Alberto Salazar. Allegations have also surfaced recently based on information obtained by the hacking group known as Fancy Bears.

“I just get sick of it, really, to be honest with you,” Farah said. “As an athlete you just want to do the best as you can, and that’s what I want to do. But it’s nothing new. It’s something the press likes to be able to twist it and add a little bit of spices and add stuff on it. Being an Olympic champion, four-time Olympic champion, you do get a lot of that stuff. But at the same time you just have to do the best that you can. I believe in clean sports.”

He said he has not read the USADA report that has shown up online.

“It’s nothing new. You tell me something new. Since 2011 it’s the same stuff,” Farah said, clearly exasperated. “It’s all right. That’s what you get being an Olympic champion, and what we do.”

Farah has been training for the past five months in Flagstaff, Ariz., for the outdoor season and his final bow at the worlds. He hopes to run both of his signature races, the 5000m and 10,000m, if his body lets him, he said.

Saturday’s Prefontaine will be bittersweet.

“I don’t like to think like that, but it will be, my last,” he said. “It will probably be very emotional knowing that will be my last track racing in the U.S. But you know, tomorrow (I) just can’t be worrying about anything. I just have to concentrate on the race and getting the job done.”

Farah will be part of a stellar field that includes Paul Chelimo, the 5000m silver medalist in Rio, and Kenyan Paul Tanui, the Rio silver medalist in the 10,000m.

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