Jennifer Kessy, Emily Day form new beach volleyball partnership

Jennifer Kessy
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Olympic silver medalist Jennifer Kessy will return to beach volleyball next season, after taking this year off due to pregnancy, with new partner Emily Day.

Kessy, 37, lost in the London Olympic final with then-partner April Ross. They were beaten by fellow Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

After the Olympics, Ross switched to team with Walsh Jennings in 2013, while Kessy took a break to have her first child. Daughter Aïla was born Aug. 14. May-Treanor retired.

When Kessy initially took her break, she knew she needed to find a new partner before returning, but figured she would play domestic tournaments exclusively in 2015. She considered never competing internationally again and not going for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Kessy changed her mind while watching the World Series of Beach Volleyball near her home in Long Beach, Calif., in July, one of the top international tournaments.

Walsh Jennings and Ross won in Long Beach, but no other U.S. pair was seeded in the top 10. Walsh Jennings and Ross were the only Americans to make the semifinals of any of the 10 FIVB World Tour Grand Slam events this season.

A nation can qualify a maximum two pairs for the Olympics in 2016. Kessy hasn’t seen another U.S. pair step up to become favorites for that second spot with Walsh Jennings and Ross.

“If there was a team like April and I were, ranked like fourth in the world right now, I’m not sure I would be 100 percent in as I am right now,” Kessy said in a phone interview Monday. “I see the opening and opportunity. It really has lit a fire. I can’t really back down from it.”

So, three of the four U.S. women’s beach volleyball players from London could return for Rio, but none with the same partner.

When Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor beat Kessy and Ross for gold, Walsh Jennings told Ross in a post-match meeting near the net, “Let’s go win gold in Rio,” which proved to be the early makings of their partnership. Kessy didn’t hear Walsh Jennings at the time, but she found out later.

“It’s not my favorite thing that [Walsh Jennings] has ever said,” Kessy said, “but it’s not a knock to me, of course, because I know [Walsh Jennings] very well. For me, I wouldn’t have said that at that moment, but it’s not me. It does motivate me to see her and April in Rio and maybe have a rematch.”

Kessy said she, Ross and Walsh Jennings communicated before Ross and Walsh Jennings began playing together in 2013.

“It was really hard for me, and I didn’t know how [Kessy] was going to take it initially, even though I knew she was going to slow down,” Ross told the Orange County (Calif.) Register last year. “Knowing her as well as I do, she knows this is a business, and she’s the best at not getting emotional about this stuff.”

It was an especially tough year for Kessy, who lost her father due to a heart attack.

Kessy said she and Ross still get along fine off the court. They see each other daily in the same gym.

“On the court it’s going to be quite interesting,” Kessy said. “It never will get bad. It will be interesting because we do know so much about each other that it’ll be fun. It might get competitive, and it might get a little heated every once in a while, especially with Kerri on the other side — her and I have been known to get heated.”

Kessy’s new partner was part of the No. 2-ranked U.S. pair last season.

Day, 27, spent most of the last two years playing with Summer Ross (no relation to April). They decided to end their partnership following their last tournament this season in late September.

“Our style of play on the international level was not working out,” Day said.

Meanwhile, Kessy kept a list of people she considered asking to partner with. She consulted with men’s and women’s players, her mother and husband, a former player.

“Everyone kept coming back to Emily,” Kessy said. “I thought about who I should play with, who would complement my game, who I would be comfortable with. Of course, I would love to play with April again — I would love to clone April — but also have somebody who can bring something different to the game. I’m not looking to be just like I was with April.”

Kessy reached out to Day in the last two to three weeks.

“She knows what it takes to get there [to the Olympics],” Day said, “and I’m looking forward to learning from her and using what I know already, combining with her knowledge to take it to the next level.”

If Kessy makes her second Olympic team in 2016, she will become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s beach volleyball player ever at 39. The oldest U.S. men’s player was Sinjin Smith, who was also 39 in 1996, the first Olympics to include beach volleyball.

Kessy might not have come back had she and Ross upset May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings for gold in London.

“I know the feeling right after we lost that game, and it wasn’t happy to win the silver,” Kessy said. “I was so upset. I was so devastated.

“I still have that feeling and a little bit of sadness, and I do think about that game. … So, yes, maybe that is part of the reason [I’m coming back].”

Peter Forsberg and the Olympics

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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