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

Ski jumping World Cup season kicks off in Poland

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The World Cup ski jump season opens Friday with men’s team and individual events in Wisla, Poland.

The host country had three of the top five jumpers in the overall standings last year. Defending champion Kamil Stoch placed third, Piotr Zyla was close behind in fourth, and Dawid Kubacki was fifth.

Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi dominated last year’s competition, finishing with 2,085 points to 1,349 for runner-up Stefan Kraft of Austria, the 2017 World Cup champion.

Kobayashi’s performance was a dramatic improvement over his previous season, when he finished no higher than sixth in any individual competition and was 24th overall. Last year, he had 15 wins and 23 podium finishes in 30 World Cup events, though he only managed fourth and 14th in the two world championship events.

The top American last season, Kevin Bickner, finished 51st overall, a drop from 39th the year before. He was 18th and 20th in the 2018 Olympic jumps.

Women’s World Cup action begins Dec. 6-8 in Lillehammer, Norway.

NBC Sports Gold will broadcast World Cup action throughout the season. This weekend, the qualifying jumps will air at noon ET Friday, the team event starts at 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday, and the individual competition is at 6 a.m. Sunday.

MORE: Full ski jumping broadcast schedule

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Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter dies at 65

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

It is virtually impossible to avoid the name “Burton” once the snow starts falling at any given mountain around the world these days. The name is plastered on the bottoms of snowboards, embroidered on jackets, stenciled into bindings.

At a bar in Pyeongchang, South Korea, not far from where snowboarding celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Olympics last year, there was a wall filled with Burton pictures and memorabilia — as sure a sign as any of the global reach of a company founded in his garage in Londonderry, Vermont.

The company sponsored pretty much every top rider at one time or another — from Shaun White to Kelly Clark to Chloe Kim.

Carpenter watched all his champions win their Olympic golds from near the finish line, never afraid to grind away in the mosh pit of snowboarders and snowboarding fans that he helped create.

In an interview in 2010, he said he was happy with how far his sport had come, and comfortable with where it was going.

“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said. “We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”

Lacy said details about the celebration of Burton’s life would be coming soon but, for now, “I’d encourage everyone to do what Jake would be doing tomorrow, and that’s riding. It’s opening day at Stowe, so consider taking some turns together, in celebration of Jake.”

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