U.S. women's volleyball

U.S. women’s volleyball wins breakthrough World Championship (video)

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The U.S. women’s volleyball team captured the biggest title in program history Sunday, beating China 27-25, 25-20, 16-25, 26-24 in the World Championship gold-medal game in Milan.

The Americans won their first major international championship after three previous Olympic silver medals (1984, 2008, 2012), two World Championship silver medals (1967, 2002) and one World Cup silver medal (2011). They’ve gone 50 years with zero Olympic golds and broke a 62-year World Championship drought.

They are coached by Karch Kiraly, a two-time Olympic indoor volleyball champion and 1996 Olympic beach volleyball champion.

“We came here to make history,” an emotional Kiraly said on court on Universal Sports. “The USA was due. I kept saying it. I know we’re going to win one of these. I don’t know if it’s 100 years from now or today. I told the team there’s just been this obstacle, this wall, but I could feel it cracking between us and that goal, and that gold, that color. I could feel it like the Berlin Wall. It was cracking and fracturing. We just had to keep hurling ourselves, as a team, at that wall, until we burst it down.”

Kiraly compared this title with the Olympic gold medals he won as a player.

“I don’t feel much different, actually, to be a part of an effort like this,” he said.

Kim Hill was named tournament MVP and best spiker. Alisha Glass was named best setter.

Captain Christa Dietzen celebrated not only the team gold but also her 28th birthday Sunday.

“I constantly think about how this is bigger than us,” said Dietzen, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist who underwent knee surgery in December. “I think it represents the past players of USA Volleyball and everybody that has built this program from the bottom up. And it represents the present players, and not just the 14 of us who are here, but all 25 to 40 of us who have come through the gym this summer and made each other better.”

The U.S., ranked No. 2 in the world, shocked top-ranked Brazil in a semifinal sweep Saturday to set the final with China, ranked fifth. Brazil, which beat the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals, downed Italy for bronze earlier Sunday.

Olympic qualification tournaments start in 2015 for nations to join host Brazil at Rio 2016.

Rio Olympic indoor volleyball final tickets are tied for the priciest of any sport. The World Championship is held once every four years, meaning the U.S. kept Brazil from claiming the biggest global title before its home Olympics.

“I think it’s just set the tone [going toward the Olympics], and I think it’s built our confidence,” Dietzen said. “But we still have a lot of business and a lot of work to do. But I think it’s made us hungrier.”

Poland did the same in the men’s World Championship that it hosted three weeks ago. The U.S. men, who have won three Olympic titles, were seventh there.

The U.S. lost its final match to Brazil at the last four Olympics.

“We know, two years from now, the headwinds will be great in Rio,” Kiraly said on Universal Sports. “Brazil will have the home-court advantage. We love headwinds. Bring ’em on.”

NBC Olympics researcher Amanda Doyle contributed reporting from Milan.

Kobe Bryant embraced the Olympics, on and off the court

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Kobe Bryant developed a special relationship with Team USA, international basketball and the Olympic Games themselves.

Bryant was among those who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. Grief spread worldwide, showing the impact he had across international sport. Images of Bryant meeting Olympians from gymnastics, swimming, track and field, even Alpine skiing, some from him attending their competitions, dotted social media.

Bryant earned gold medals as a leader of the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball teams. He said before debuting at the Games that he valued a gold medal above an NBA championship.

In 2008, he helped spur the Redeem Team to gold in Beijing. He sat down with NBC Sports’ Cris Collinsworth for an interview, describing what it meant to him to receive the USA jersey for the first time.

“I had goosebumps, and I actually just looked at it for a while,” said Bryant, who put off surgery on a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger to play in 2008. “I just held it there, and I laid it across my bed. I just stared at it for a few minutes. Just because, as a kid growing up, this is the ultimate, ultimate in basketball.”

Bryant’s first Olympic game came in a special environment — in Beijing against China.

“When I look up in the crowd, and I see all the USA flags waving and people chanting USA, it gives you goosebumps,” he said. “When I heard the national anthem, I teared up a little bit, and I had to gather myself.”

Bryant stayed close to the Olympic Movement in retirement.

He attended the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for women’s gymnastics, meeting the team members. He appeared at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggle Awards, helping raise money for the national governing body. He was the final voice in the Los Angeles Olympic bid presentation to the IOC two years ago.

Bryant’s last words in that video, before the IOC later awarded the 2024 Olympic to Paris and the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles: “To have the Olympics here, and to have so many different cultures represented, would be a beautiful story to tell.”

WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.