April Ross looks ahead to 2016, ongoing Brazilian rivalry

April Ross
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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

IOC gives more time to pick 2030 Olympic host, studies rotating Winter Games

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The 2030 Winter Olympic host, expected to be Salt Lake City or Sapporo, Japan, is no longer targeted to be decided before next fall, the IOC said in announcing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.

The IOC Future Host Commission was granted more time to study factors, including climate change, that could impact which cities and regions host future Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The 2030 Winter Games host is not expected to be decided before or at an IOC session next September or October.

Hosts have traditionally been chosen by IOC members vote seven years before the Games, though recent reforms allow flexibility on the process and timeline. For example, the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded to Paris and Los Angeles in a historic double award in 2017. The 2032 Summer Games were awarded to Brisbane last year without a traditional bid race.

There are three interested parties for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the IOC said Tuesday without naming them. Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. All three cities are attractive as past Winter Games hosts with existing venues.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030, but could step in for 2030 if asked.

The future host commission outlined proposals for future Winter Olympics, which included rotating hosts within a pool of cities or regions and a requirement that hosts have an average minimum temperature below freezing (32 degrees) for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period.

The IOC Executive Board gave the commission more time to study the proposals and other factors impacting winter sports.

The IOC board also discussed and will continue to explore a potential double awarding of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympic hosts.

Also Tuesday, the IOC board said that Afghanistan participation in the 2024 Olympics will depend on making progress in safe access to sports for women and young girls in the country.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to suspend Afghanistan until women and girls can play sport in the country.

In a press release, the IOC board expressed “serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by the Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practicing sport in the country.” It urged Afghanistan authorities to “take immediate action at the highest level to reverse such restrictions and ensure safe access to sport for women and young girls.”

The IOC board also announced that North Korea’s National Olympic Committee will be reinstated when its suspension is up at the end of the year.

In September 2021, the IOC banned the North Korean NOC through the end of 2022, including banning a North Korean delegation from participating in the Beijing Winter Games, after it chose not to participate in the Tokyo Games.

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was the only one of 206 National Olympic Committees to withdraw from Tokyo. The country made its choice in late March 2021, citing a desire “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection.”

The IOC said in September 2021 that it “provided reassurances for the holding of safe Games and offered constructive proposals to find an appropriate and tailor-made solution until the very last minute (including the provision of vaccines), which were systematically rejected by the PRK NOC.”

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Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe leaves moguls for another skiing discipline

Justine Dufour-Lapointe
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Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the 2014 Olympic moguls champion, is leaving the event to compete in freeriding, a non-Olympic skiing discipline.

“After three Olympic cycles and 12 years on the World Cup circuit, I felt that I needed to find a new source of motivation and had to push my limits even more so I can reach my full potential as a skier,” the 28-year-old Montreal native said in a social media video, according to a translation from French. “Today, I am starting a new chapter in my career. … I want to perfect myself in another discipline. I want to connect with the mountain differently. Above all, I want to get out of my comfort zone in a way I’ve never done before.”

Dufour-Lapointe said she will compete on the Freeride World Tour, a series of judged competitions described as:

There‘s a start gate at the summit and a finish gate at the bottom. That’s it. Best run down wins. It truly is that simple. Think skiers and snowboarders choosing impossible-looking lines through cornices and cliff-faces and nasty couloirs. Think progressive: big jumps, mach-speed turns and full-on attack. Think entertaining.

Dufour-Lapointe has retired from moguls skiing, according to a Freeride World Tour press release, though she did not explicitly say that in social media posts Tuesday.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Dufour-Lapointe denied American Hannah Kearney‘s bid to become the first freestyle skier to repeat as Olympic champion. Older sister Chloé took silver in a Canadian one-two.

Dufour-Lapointe also won the world title in 2015, then Olympic silver in 2018 behind Frenchwoman Perrine Laffont.

Chloé announced her retirement in September. A third Dufour-Lapointe Olympic moguls skier, Maxime, retired in 2018.

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