World Beach Volleyball Championships preview

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings said last week her recovery from a dislocated right shoulder went so well that suffering the injury May 27 felt like a lifetime ago, but a Brazilian pair has earned the favorite label going into the World Championships.

Walsh Jennings is set to return to competition for the first time in a month at the World Championships in the Netherlands on Saturday. She and partner Olympic silver medalist April Ross open pool play against a Dutch pair at 3 p.m. ET. The knockout rounds start Tuesday, with the medal matches July 3-4.

It’s the biggest tournament for both Walsh Jennings and Ross since the London Olympics, when they were on opposite sides of the net in an all-American gold-medal match.

Walsh Jennings’ partner at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Misty May-Treanor, retired following London. Walsh Jennings planted the seed to continue on with Ross as her new partner immediately after the Olympic final, and they teamed up full time after Walsh Jennings gave birth to daughter Scout on April 6, 2013.

Walsh Jennings, a 36-year-old mother of three, and Ross were strong but inconsistent in their first full season together in 2014. They won four FIVB World Tour events, tying Brazilians Larissa and Talita for the most by one pair.

This season has not gone according to plan. Walsh Jennings and Ross were beaten by Larissa and Talita in a one-set exhibition in Rio de Janeiro in February, the pairs’ first meeting.

Walsh Jennings and Ross finished third in their first international event in China in April, followed the next month by Walsh Jennings’ injury in Moscow that forced the pair to withdraw.

Complete World Championships men’s, women’s schedules

Walsh Jennings suffered the injury diving for a ball.

“The athlete hit a cut shot, I dug it, laid-out flat, something I’ve done a million times before,” Walsh Jennings, who had four shoulder surgeries but did not require an operation for this injury, said last week. “It was just a fluke. The ground is really hard, and it happens really fast. I think I kind of misjudged the level of everything.

“It definitely hurt. It was just more a really raw feeling. The pain was manageable. I knew I didn’t tear anything.”

“My doctor just said I got the crap kicked out of my shoulder.”

Meanwhile, the Brazilians Larissa and Talita have just about picked up from where they left off in 2014, when they paired midway through the year and won their final four FIVB World Tour events.

This season, Larissa and Talita won their first two FIVB World Tour starts before missing a Norway event due to Talita’s leg injury and being upset in the round of 16 in St. Petersburg, Fla., last week.

At the World Championships, Larissa and Talita are seeded ahead of Walsh Jennings and Ross. Walsh Jennings said the Brazilians deserve to be the favorites.

“They’re very beatable” she said. “They’re very similar to a lot of teams on tour, but their consistency is what separates them. They’re a stereotypical Brazilian beach volleyball team — two very good athletes who come together and complement each other very well.

“My money’s on us, all things being equal, but we have to prove ourselves. We’re unproven. That’s something that drove us crazy last year, the consistency.”

Walsh Jennings won three straight World Championships with May-Treanor in 2003, 2005 and 2007, but she didn’t start putting much stock into the prestige of the event until 2011.

That’s when Larissa and her former partner, Juliana, beat Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor in the Poland final and celebrated with screams and group hugs and by autographing video cameras like tennis players.

“Over the top,” May-Treanor called it.

“That pissed me off,” Walsh Jennings said of that defeat last week.

Walsh Jennings missed the 2013 World Championships, where Ross played with Whitney Pavlik and finished fourth. China’s Xue Chen and Zhang Xi took the title. Zhang hasn’t played since 2013, and Xue isn’t entered in the Netherlands.

The top men’s seed at Worlds was to be Americans Phil Dalhausser (2008 Olympic champion) and Sean Rosenthal (two-time Olympian), but they’re out due to Dalhausser’s muscle tear, also suffered in Moscow, and Rosenthal’s knee tendonitis, according to the FIVB.

Their absence opens up an already deep field of pairs that could take gold. Pairs from 10 different nations won FIVB World Tour events last season, and the first six events this year have been won by pairs from six different nations.

The U.S. pairs at Worlds are former minor-league pitcher and 7-footer Ryan Doherty and John Mayer, 42-year-old 1996 and 2000 indoor volleyball Olympian John Hyden and Tri Bourne, Rosenthal’s 2008 and 2012 Olympic partner Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson and Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner.

Gibb and Patterson won the FIVB World Tour Grand Slam in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, their second FIVB World Tour title since pairing for the start of the 2013 season.

The World Championships field also includes defending champions from host Netherlands — Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen — and Brazilian legends Ricardo and Emanuel, at least one of whom earned a medal at each of the last four Olympics, together or separately.

In 2003 and 2007, both men’s and women’s World champions went on to take Olympic gold the following year. In 2011, the World champions, both from Brazil, did not capture Olympic titles the next year.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde
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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

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Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

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