FIVB

April Ross discusses playing without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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NEW YORK — Lauren Fendrick and April Ross had a chilly start to their new partnership.

They placed ninth last week at the FIVB World Tour stop in Moscow, where players wore long sleeves under their bathing suits while playing in snowy conditions.

The partnership heated up this week at the AVP tournament in New York City, winning Sunday as the temperature climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That’s beach volleyball—you have to be ready for crazy weather,” said Ross, who made time to meet with local students who helped raise $162,160 for the Side-Out Foundation to fund critical research and clinical trials in late stage metastatic breast cancer. Ross lost her mother, Margie, to breast cancer in 2001.

Ross decided to partner with Fendrick after splitting with Olympic bronze medal teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings in April. According to Ross, “the final nail in the coffin” for her partnership with Walsh Jennings was when Ross signed an exclusivity agreement with the AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, while Walsh Jennings decided not to.

Ross is still getting used to Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics. In Moscow, Fendrick made a joke on social media about figuring out their high-five routine.

But Ross is already excited about her compatibility on defense with the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, the 2014 and 2016 AVP Best Blocker who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.

“I think she is one of the best blockers in the world, if not the best blocker in the world,” Ross said. “I love playing behind her. She takes up so much space.”

Whereas Ross utilized two plays on defense with Walsh Jennings, she now rotates between seven different defensive plays with Fendrick.

“Lauren wants to push the boundaries and see what new stuff we can come up with and be more creative on the court,” Ross said. “Kerri is a little more traditional minded.”

Fendrick has been impressed by Ross’ toughness. Ross dislocated her right big toe in Sunday’s semifinal match in a collision that gave Fendrick’s foot a sizable bruise. Up until first serve of the final, Fendrick believed Ross’ injury would force them to withdraw.

“She’s a warrior,” Fendrick said about Ross, who planned on getting an X-ray after the match. “I am lucky to have her by my side.”

Walsh Jennings and new partner Nicole Branagh are set to make their FIVB World Tour season debut beginning June 26 in Porec, Croatia. Ross and Fendrick are also on the entries list.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have not been on opposite sides of the net in an international tournament since 2012, when Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor defeated Ross and Jennifer Kessy for the gold medal at the London Olympics.

“To be honest, for my entire career, I’ve focused on my side of the net,” Ross said. “That’s going to continue to be the case. If we do come up against her, it will be just like any other team out there on the international tour.”

Walsh Jennings congratulated Ross on winning the AVP Austin Open on May 21 with Whitney Pavlik, but they have not talked since.

“We are competitors now,” Ross said. “She is on a different team now, and I’m on a different team.”

Ross, 34, reiterated that she will figure out her long-term partner plans for the 2020 Olympics, as well as the timing of starting a family with husband Brad Keenan, after this season.

Until then, she is focused on the Beach Volleyball World Championships, which start July 28 in Vienna, Austria.

“Other than the Olympics, this is the biggest event beach volleyball has,” said Ross, the 2009 world champion. “It’s definitely the No. 1 priority for me this year.”

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MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings in world champs field with new partner

Female runners with high testosterone face new restriction

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Female runners with high testosterone must reduce those levels or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who was gender tested in 2009, is expected to be affected, according to South Africa’s Olympic Committee.

“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes,” IAAF president Seb Coe said in a press release. “The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [difference of sexual development] has cheated, they are about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

The IAAF, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency, said research showed the following natural testosterone levels:

Most women: .12-1.79 nanomoles per liter in blood
Normal men after puberty: 7.7-29.4 nmol/L

The IAAF rule forces all women who race the 400m through mile and who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their ratio to below five. It said women who have “a difference of sexual development” can have natural testosterone levels beyond the normal male range.

The IAAF and WADA-funded study found that women with high testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

Research showed 7.1 of every 1,000 elite female track and field athletes have elevated testosterone, most of which were runners in events between 400m and the mile.

“The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world,” an IAAF doctor said in the release. “No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone. Under that rule, female athletes with a ratio of 10 nmol/L or higher could only compete against women if they had an operation or took hormones to reduce their testosterone level.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory.

The gender-testing issue was raised in 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18. Word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing.

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, while the testosterone-limiting rule was in effect, behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her golds for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance after the London Games while the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. After CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

An image with the sentence, “How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged,” was posted on Semenya’s social media Wednesday after reports were first published about the new rule.

Her default position is generally to talk only about her running, but she spoke out against her critics in a speech after accepting South Africa’s Sportswoman of the Year in November 2016.

“They say she talks like a man, she walks like a man, she runs like a man,” Semenya said, before finishing off the series with an Afrikaans word that loosely translates to “Get lost.”

South Africa’s Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said Thursday his organization was “disappointed by the IAAF ruling.”

“Especially given that Caster’s name is again being dragged through the publicity mill,” he said in a press release. “We are concerned that the decisions have been approved without taking into account all factors into consideration, as these factors have not been properly nor fully ventilated. We wish to place on record that Caster Semenya has never engaged in any performance-enhancing activities and any enhanced testosterone levels are due solely to her genetic make-up.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Olympic pairs champions take indefinite break

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Aljona Savchenko, the Olympic pairs champion with Bruno Massot, said they are taking an indefinite break from competition, according to German press agency DPA.

Savchenko and Massot will perform in ice shows next fall and winter, which could preclude them from competing in major events like the Grand Prix season (late October to early December) and the European Championships in January.

The German pair followed their title in PyeongChang with a world title last month, breaking a four-year-old world-record score and winning by the largest margin (20.31 points) in pairs at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was replaced 14 years ago.

Savchenko, 34 and a five-time Olympian, became the oldest Olympic pairs gold medalist. She then claimed her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

The French-born Massot, 29, competed in his first Olympics in PyeongChang and earned his first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

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