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

Caster Semenya allowed to race 800m at Pre Classic

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Caster Semenya has been switched from the 3000m to the 800m at next week’s Pre Classic, marking her first scheduled 800m since a Swiss Supreme Court ruling allowed her to race her Olympic gold-medal distance while she appeals a new IAAF testosterone rule.

“Caster’s representation requested that she be moved from the 3,000 meters (where she was originally entered) to the 800 meters, and we are happy to comply,” Prefontaine Classic meet director Tom Jordan said in a statement, confirming a Reuters report.

NBC Sports airs live Pre Classic coverage on June 30 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion, was originally entered in the 3000m because the rule bars her from races between 400m and the mile unless she takes testosterone-suppressing measures, under which she would be allowed to return to those distances late this year. Semenya refuses to take those measures.

A Swiss Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago lifted the restriction for Semenya — but not other athletes — while her appeal is pending. The IAAF has until Monday to respond to the court before a ruling could be made. A resolution could still be months away, with Semenya possibly able to race until that day comes.

Semenya has won 30 straight 800m races dating to 2015, including the Rio Olympics and 2017 World Championships. All three Rio Olympic 800m medalists have said they are affected by the new rule capping testosterone in women’s races between the 400m and mile.

That meant none raced at Diamond League stops in Stockholm and Rabat, Morocco, earlier this month. Last Sunday’s Rabat meet offered Semenya a late invite, more than a week after her restriction was lifted, but Semenya said it was too late for her to travel in time to race.

American record holder Ajeé Wilson won the Stockholm 800m without any of the Olympic medalists in the field.

MORE: Caster Semenya to IAAF: Focus on dopers, not us

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Geraint Thomas crashes out of Tour de France prep race

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BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas crashed in a cycling race, days after teammate Chris Froome was involved in a season-ending accident in France.

Team INEOS said Thomas should be fine to start the Tour de France on July 6 despite having to drop out of the fourth stage of the nine-day Tour de Suisse race in Switzerland.

“Clearly it’s frustrating and a small setback for my Tour de France preparations, but there’s still plenty of time before we start in Brussels in a few weeks’ time,” Thomas said, according to the team.

The team says on Twitter that Thomas “was alert and speaking to the team after the crash and will be taken to hospital for checks.”

Thomas had a ripped jersey and cuts on his back and shoulder after hitting the road with about 18 miles left in the stage. He was in eighth place, 28 seconds behind race leader Peter Sagan.

Thomas won the 2018 Tour after Froome won four times between 2013 and 2017.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

MORE: NBC Sports launches Cycling Pass for 2019-20 season

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