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

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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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

Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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