Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross forge ahead after notable phone conversation

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NEW YORK — Kerri Walsh Jennings says she has no doubt she will win a fourth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio, but, after dislocating her right shoulder twice this season to require a fifth career surgery on the shoulder, she had this to say two months ago to partner April Ross, with her surgeon also present:

“You know, if you’re going to pick someone else up and play, make sure it’s somebody you picture yourself going to the Olympics with,” Ross said, recalling the summer phone call on The Net Live on Monday. “I kind of laughed, and I was like, you know I don’t really doubt us. I’m not going to make a run with somebody else. I had faith that we would make it happen.”

Walsh Jennings confirmed the conversation before a TODAY appearance on Wednesday, promoting her fourth straight Olympic partnership with Visa (with whom she made this memorable 2004 Super Bowl commercial).

Walsh Jennings, a 37-year-old mother of three, tweaked that first quote from Ross. She said, “make sure it’s somebody you picture yourself winning a gold medal with.”

Walsh Jennings dislocated her right shoulder in a match for the second time in two months on July 10 in Gstaad, Switzerland, and this time it was worse, a tear that required surgery.

Walsh Jennings didn’t immediately know when she’d need the surgery, but it was possible that she’d require it before being able to return to competition. That could have knocked out the Olympic qualifying hopes for her and the 2012 silver medalist Ross, who at the time needed at least eight more international tournament appearances by June to be eligible to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

If Walsh Jennings is unable to play in Rio, then so is Ross, unless Ross somehow played 12 total international events with another partner to be eligible.

“Had the worst case happen where I couldn’t have any more finishes, I wanted [Ross] to be taken care of,” Walsh Jennings said. “Basically, I care for her. She deserves to fight for a gold medal. If it’s not me, I wanted her to find the best substitute.”

Ross ended up finding two replacement partners, Jennifer Fopma and Lauren Fendrick, the latter with whom she’ll play at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., next week.

But that’s mainly for Ross to stay sharp (and for Fendrick, too, has her partner has been injured). Walsh Jennings was able to play three more tournaments after that conversation with Ross and her surgeon, before undergoing surgery earlier this month.

She plans to return next spring, and she and Ross are in favorable shape to qualify for Rio.

Ross said the thought of finding a new, permanent partner never crossed her mind.

“The only time I would’ve thought about that is if it turned into a career-ending injury [for Walsh Jennings],” she said on The Net Live.

Walsh Jennings considered it important to have that conversation with Ross, at least in part due to what happened in 2004.

That year, Walsh Jennings and then-partner Misty May-Treanor steamrolled toward the Olympics with a 90-match winning streak. But May-Treanor suffered an abdominal injury in May 2004, played through it in June, reaggravated it and missed most of July before the Athens Olympics in August.

“She tore her ab pretty significantly,” Walsh Jennings, who played with two different partners that summer while May-Treanor healed, said Wednesday. “I had no doubt she’d be back, but the media and the outside and people who care for me were like, ‘Are you taken care of? Is [May-Treanor] coming back?’ It just put doubts in my head. That’s why I thought it was really important for April and I to stay really close in that conversation [this year].”

May-Treanor did come back, and she and Walsh Jennings didn’t drop a set en route to winning their first of three straight Olympic gold medals.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Kerri Walsh Jennings on her Super Bowl commercial, toughest loss and more

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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