April Ross
AP

April Ross looks ahead to 2016, ongoing Brazilian rivalry

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April Ross hasn’t won an individual FIVB annual award since 2012, but her play late this season merits accolades.

While three-time Olympic champion partner Kerri Walsh Jennings earned plenty of praise for returning twice from right shoulder dislocations, it was Ross who stepped up her game the most.

Walsh Jennings was effusive in interviews at the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif., in August, saying Ross was playing the best that Walsh Jennings had ever seen.

The duo, with Walsh Jennings primarily serving underhand and swinging with her left arm and Ross taking on more offensive responsibility, lost in the final in Long Beach and then played two more tournaments before Walsh Jennings ended her season to have a fifth right shoulder surgery.

But Ross kept on playing and will finish her campaign at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in two weeks, teaming with Lauren Fendrick while Walsh Jennings is out. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will broadcast the finals live on Oct. 4 at 2:30 p.m. ET.

“It’s for sure tough, and it feels awkward,” Ross said in a phone interview of having a revolving door of partners this season. “I would obviously love to play with Kerri non-stop.”

Domestically, Ross won four AVP tournaments this year while using three partners — Walsh Jennings, then Jennifer Fopma for two titles and finally Fendrick in the AVP Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif., last week.

In Fort Lauderdale, Ross has her last chance at a first international tournament victory of 2015. She’s won at least one international title every full year she’s been on tour, since she was FIVB Rookie of the Year in 2007.

Ross said she will not play the remaining international events this fall and return to international play next season, either in late winter or early spring when the schedule starts up (depending on when Walsh Jennings is able to return).

Ross and Walsh Jennings’ challenges in the Olympic year are two-fold. One, qualifying for Rio.

They must play five FIVB World Tour events by June 12 to be eligible. There were six tournaments before that date on the 2015 schedule, so they will have little room for error and, more importantly, injuries next spring.

Second, winning in Rio. As of now, the favorites are Brazilians Larissa and Talita, who are also entered in the World Tour Finals and are 2-0 against Ross and Walsh Jennings.

Their first meeting was a preseason February one-set exhibition when Walsh Jennings and Ross weren’t in in-season form. The second, in the Long Beach final, came with Walsh Jennings playing with one good arm.

Larissa and Talita have won 10 of the 15 international events they’ve played since debuting in July 2014, a stretch of dominance reminiscent of Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor in past Olympic cycles.

Of course, Ross knows the challenge of both the Brazilian power pair and Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor.

She and Jennifer Kessy lost to Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor in May-Treanor’s final international match, the 2012 Olympic final.

Which is the tougher opponent — Larissa and Talita going into Rio, or Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor four years ago?

“They’re different beasts,” Ross said. “I think Misty and Kerri were definitely more formidable. I just don’t think we’ve had a good look at Larissa and Talita yet. … It’s weird how it’s shaping up. You would have totally thought we would’ve seen them a bunch, and we definitely haven’t.”

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings out until March

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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