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

U.S. women's volleyball

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.

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini

Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing

USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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