Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross confident after defeat in Brazil showdown

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The record says Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won twice and lost three times against Brazil’s top competition in an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro last week.

But Walsh Jennings and Ross did not think defeat when reflecting on the U.S. vs. Brazil event — Melhores do Mundo — on Copacabana Beach, site of the 2016 Olympic tournament.

“Everything has been confirmed as far as the fact that we have the potential to be the best in the world, without a doubt,” Walsh Jennings said in a phone interview Sunday.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, were arguably the best in the world last season. They won four FIVB World Tour events in 10 starts in their first full year together.

Walsh Jennings’ three-time Olympic teammate, Misty May-Treanor, retired after the 2012 Olympics. Ross’ London Olympic teammate, Jennifer Kessy, missed last season to have a child and is back with new partner Emily Day.

The most anticipated matchup on Copacabana last week was between Walsh Jennings and Ross and the Brazilians Larissa and Talita on Friday.

Larissa and Talita also won four FIVB World Tour titles last season. Theirs came in just six starts, after they partnered midway through the year.

But Larissa and Talita and Walsh Jennings and Ross never faced off last season. Their first meeting was Friday in Walsh Jennings and Ross’ first tournament in more than five months. The score matched the hype.

In a one-set exhibition to 21 points, both pairs had match points before the Brazilians prevailed 26-24.

“It wasn’t a match; it was a game,” Ross said. “It’s hard to put very much stock in it. … I would love to have two more games [in a traditional best-of-three] to adjust a little bit.”

Ross said she and Walsh Jennings learned plenty about Larissa and Talita in the 50 points, but she would not divulge details.

“I was very surprised at how calm I felt,” said Walsh Jennings, who said firmly in January that she and Ross were the best team in the world. “I thought the nerves would be a lot bigger than they were. But I feel at home here.”

Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor were clear favorites for gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and perhaps only trailed Larissa and Juliana going into 2012.

Walsh Jennings believes that, at 17 months out from Rio 2016, this path to a potential fourth gold will be the toughest of all.

“Every quadrennial the teams have gotten deeper and deeper,” said Walsh Jennings, a mother of three who will turn 38 years old during the Rio Games. “The great teams are not necessarily better [this Olympic cycle], but the amount of great teams.”

Multiple Czech and German teams won FIVB World Tour events last season. The reigning World champions are Chinese.

Walsh Jennings and Ross will next play the season-opening FIVB World Tour event in China in April. The every-other-year World Championships are in June and July in the Netherlands.

One more experience in Rio that Walsh Jennings will take with her was a breakfast with Brazilian legend Shelda.

Shelda and her longtime partner Adriana were the world’s best team before Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor took over leading into the 2004 Olympics. (In 2016, Walsh Jennings will look to break Adriana’s record as oldest Olympic women’s beach volleyball medalist, by 2 1/2 years)

You’ll notice a key difference for Walsh Jennings in matches with Ross, contrasted to ones with May-Treanor, such as their 2004 Olympic gold-medal match against Shelda and Adriana.

Walsh Jennings has switched from the left side to the right side of the sand playing with Ross. That was Shelda’s side.

So Walsh Jennings used her coach, Marcio Sicoli, as a translator at breakfast, as she picked Shelda’s brain about playing on the right.

“Very simple and profound things to think about,” Walsh Jennings said. “Best conversation I ever had with Shelda.”

Kerri Walsh Jennings on her Super Bowl commercial, toughest loss and brain games

Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

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Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch, six months out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25 …

Chuck Aoki (Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.

Shingo Kunieda (Tennis)
Japan is known for its tennis players (Naomi OsakaKei Nishikori), but Kunieda is by far the most accomplished. He owns a wheelchair record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 21 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic gold medals. Japan earned 24 medals at the Rio Paralympics, but they were all silver or bronze.

Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.

Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 22-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.

Morteza Mehrzad (Volleyball)
Iran dominates men’s sitting volleyball. None of its players were more noticeable in Rio than the 8-foot, 1-inch Mehrzad, who led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match. Mehrzad was also part of Iran’s 2018 World title team, a signal that he could return for another Paralympics in Tokyo.

Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.

Becca Murray (Basketball)
The leading scorer on the U.S.’ Rio Paralympic champion team returned to the program in 2019 after two years away. Murray, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2008 at age 18 (and earned gold), looks to help the U.S. women bounce back from a 2018 World Championship sixth-place finish without her.

Daniel Romanchuk (Track and Field)
Eliminated in the heats of all his Rio Paralympic events as an 18-year-old. Now Romanchuk is a marathon superstar, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in 2019. The University of Illinois product is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he lowered 800m and 5000m world records on the track in his classification.

Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver).

Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.

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MORE: Memorable Paralympic moments from 2010s decade

2020 World Track Cycling Championships TV, live stream schedule

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The world track cycling championships offer an Olympic preview, live on NBC Sports Gold and also airing on Olympic Channel this week.

All five daily sessions, beginning Wednesday, stream live for NBC Sports Gold “Cycling Pass” subscribers. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs same-day delayed TV broadcasts.

The U.S. contingent is led by Chloé Dygert, a world champion on the track and the road who is trying to make the Olympic team in both disciplines. Dygert already qualified for Tokyo by winning the world title in the road time trial in September.

On the track, Dygert swept individual and team pursuit titles in 2017 and 2018 but missed last year’s worlds after a May 2018 concussion. She was part of the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medal team pursuit squad in Rio.

The U.S. has yet to win an Olympic women’s track cycling title. The individual pursuit is not on the Olympic program, but Dygert could anchor a potent team pursuit. The U.S. finished seventh without Dygert and the late Kelly Catlin at the 2019 Worlds.

The international field is led by married British couple Jason and Laura Kenny, who own 10 combined Olympic titles.

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Day Time (ET) Key Events Network
Wednesday 12:20 p.m. Team sprints NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
8 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Thursday 12:20 p.m. Team pursuits NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
8 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Friday 12:20 p.m. Women’s sprint, omnium NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
10:30 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Saturday 10:20 a.m. Women’s madison NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
5 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Sunday 7:50 a.m. Women’s keirin NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
5 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM

*Delayed broadcast