Golf faces uncertain Olympic future due to numerous dropouts

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — For the longest time, golf’s biggest headache in preparing for a return to the Olympics was getting a new course built in Rio de Janeiro.

That seems like a nuisance compared with its next major hurdle.

Who’s going to play?

Ten eligible players over the last two months have pulled out of the Olympics, six of them specifically citing concerns about the Zika virus. The last week alone was particularly devastating to a sport wanting to make a good impression after being gone from the games for 112 years.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion with the broadest global appeal among young stars, was the most prominent player to withdraw. That was until Tuesday when Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, said he would not be going. Shane Lowry and Branden Grace are planning to start families and will stay home because of Zika.

That’s four players from the top 25 who won’t be in Rio, and dread that more might follow.

One of them might be Jordan Spieth, who described his Olympic position Tuesday as “uncertain.”

“I’ve always been excited about the possible opportunity, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going. It’s not just one, there’s quite a few factors,” Spieth said, mentioning Zika, security and reports of violence.

The International Golf Federation stopped responding to each withdrawal because it was repeating the same statement: It is disappointed, but understands that each player has to decide on his own.

“Unfortunately with what’s going on with Brazil and Rio with the Zika virus, there’s a small chance it could happen, and I just can’t put my family through that, especially with the future children we’re looking at having,” Day said.

While the sport is assured a spot in 2020 in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee will vote next year to decide if golf stays longer than that. And it doesn’t help when there’s an All-Star roster of players who won’t be there for whatever reasons.

Because countries are limited to two players (a maximum of four if they are among the top 15), only 18 players from the top 50 will be in Rio – as of Tuesday.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon, who has been involved in nine Olympics, believes golf still can put on a good show.

“We gave a commitment to have the best players there,” Scanlon said. “The decision they’re making are personal. We can’t make those decisions for them. All you can do is understand the decision they’re making. After the games, we’ll have two worthy champions, gold medalists that history will look back on. When the IOC members come to the venue, they’re going to have a great time. They’ll experience a sport where you can get close to the players and see their passion and determination.

“All we can do is make sure we deliver a great event.”

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

When golf made its pitch to get back into the Olympics for the first time since St. Louis in 1904, the IGF presented video support from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and other top players who offered enthusiasm and unconditional support for Olympic competition.

That was in 2009, before Brazil was devastated by political corruption and an economic meltdown, before concerns over polluted water and whether Rio could provide adequate security. And that was before Zika.

Brazil has been the hardest hit by the outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults. Charl Schwartzel and Lowry said if the Olympics were anywhere else, they would be there.

“The Olympic committee has to look at this and go, ‘Look, it was a weird situation, so don’t penalize golf because of a weird situation,'” Bubba Watson said.

But is it as simple as blaming it on Rio?

No women eligible for the Olympics have dropped out, and they would seem to be at greater risk from Zika. Then again, the women do not have the chance to play on a big stage like the Olympics. All three of their U.S. majors are held the week before the men’s majors and often get lost in coverage.

The perception is that Zika is an easy way out from going to South America for an Olympic competition that has little history behind it in golf. And the leading organizations did themselves no favors by cramming their biggest events into the summer ahead of the games. The final two majors, the British Open and PGA Championship, will be held in the month before the competition in Rio.

After the Olympics, PGA Tour players go right into the lucrative FedEx Cup, and then for Americans and Europeans, it’s off to the Ryder Cup and its flag-waving fervor.

“Other athletes have been training four and eight years to go to the Olympics. I can see why they’re going because it’s the pinnacle of their sport,” Lowry said. “It’s not the pinnacle of golf yet. It could be in 20 years’ time. But it’s not like winning the U.S. Open or winning the Masters or playing in the Ryder Cup.”

MORE: Tiger Woods wishes Olympic golf tournament had ‘more quality’ field

Kerri Walsh Jennings is back for one more beach volleyball run

Kerri Walsh Jennings
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It wasn’t long after the Tokyo Olympics, the first Games that Kerri Walsh Jennings missed since 1996, that the beach volleyball legend finally made the phone call.

Walsh Jennings, now 44, dialed now-41-year-old Logan Tom, her teammate at Stanford in 1999 and on the U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team in 2000. “She’s like a sister,” Walsh Jennings said.

Walsh Jennings asked Tom, who played indoors at four Olympics and at the club level at least into 2019, with a beach stint in 2006-07, if she’d like to be her new partner.

“She was like, ‘Kerri, you’re bat— crazy,'” Walsh Jennings recalled Tuesday.

It took a while — Walsh Jennings called the last year-plus “a saga” — but Tom agreed to a six-week tryout period late last year (video here). Their first official practice as a team was last week, Walsh Jennings said. They hope to play their first international tournament together in March, though trying to get into an event is tricky with their collective lack of ranking points.

“For my last go around competing, I want it to feel really good and feel really special,” Walsh Jennings said. “Logan brings that.

“She’s someone I’ve loved since I met her at Stanford, and she’s just one of my favorite teammates ever. She’s such a champion. So the thought of us getting together just makes us both smile, which is why we’re doing this.”

Walsh Jennings is the most decorated beach volleyball player in history with Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with Misty May-Treanor and bronze in 2016 with April Ross.

But she is not hyping up trying to qualify as one of two U.S. women’s beach teams for the 2024 Paris Games. At least not yet.

“Paris is in the background, right?” said Walsh Jennings, who last played a tournament in June 2021. “That’s obviously out there. That would be the ultimate goal, but we’re really taking this one phase at a time.”

Tom has not replied to messages seeking comment to an email address that was used to schedule a 2016 interview.

Qualifying for the Paris Games is based on international results from now until June 2024. For any American looking to get in, it would require unseating at least one of the world’s top young teams.

Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have won all four tournaments they’ve played since teaming up last fall, including beating the reigning world champions from Brazil in last week’s World Tour Finals. Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss won five times between the domestic AVP and international FIVB tours in 2022.

“I’m very comfortable being a very long shot, because I know we’ll put in the time,” Walsh Jennings said. “On paper it makes no sense to do, this late in the game with no points and everything. But I just feel like it’s in my heart, it’s in her heart, and we’re gonna give it a whirl.”

Alix Klineman, who won Tokyo Olympic gold with Ross, announced last week that she is pregnant. Klineman, 33, may come back from childbirth for a late 2024 Olympic run.

Ross, 40, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

Walsh Jennings and her last partner, Brooke Sweat, were in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After the Olympics were postponed by one year, the younger Cheng and Sarah Sponcil made a late charge and grabbed that last spot from them.

“All of 2021 was tougher than anything in my career,” said Walsh Jennings, speaking while promoting Firefly Recovery, which is helping her come back after the longest competition break of her career. “I lost myself. I didn’t know how to play anymore. Brooke and I were disconnected but trying so hard.”

In their last two tournaments, Walsh Jennings and Sweat didn’t win a main draw match. They were two of the three lowest finishes in Walsh Jennings’ career spanning more than 250 domestic and international events, according to BVBinfo.com.

“I’m like, ‘Is this the end? Am I literally going to go out limping?'” Walsh Jennings said. “In my heart and in my body, that just didn’t feel good.”

Walsh Jennings can break the record of oldest Olympic beach volleyball player since the sport debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Come 2024, Tom will be older than all but two previous Olympic beach players, according to Olympedia.org.

“To create this pressure and this energy around qualifying doesn’t make sense for us right now,” Walsh Jennings said, adding that her six-times surgically repaired right shoulder is feeling “awesome.” “Let’s just take it one step at a time.”

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Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin, Marco Odermatt
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NBC Sports and Peacock combine to air live coverage of the 2022-23 Alpine skiing season, including races on the World Cup.

Coverage began with the traditional season-opening stop in Soelden, Austria.

The first of four stops in the U.S. — the most in 26 years — was Thanksgiving weekend with a women’s giant slalom and slalom in Killington, Vermont. The men’s tour visited Beaver Creek, Colorado the following week, with stops in Palisades Tahoe, California, and Aspen, Colorado after February’s worlds in Courchevel and Meribel, France.

NBC Sports platforms air all four U.S. stops in the Alpine World Cup season, plus four more World Cups in other ski and snowboard disciplines, and every world championships race. All Alpine World Cups in Austria stream live on Peacock.

Mikaela Shiffrin, who last year won her fourth World Cup overall title, is the headliner. Shiffrin, who began the season with 74 career World Cup race victories, is now up to 85, passing Lindsey Vonn for the female record and now one behind Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record.

On the men’s side, 25-year-old Swiss Marco Odermatt returned after becoming the youngest man to win the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, since Marcel Hirscher won the second of his record eight in a row in 2013.

2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships Broadcast Schedule

Date Event Time (ET) Platform
Mon., Feb. 6 Women’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Tues., Feb. 7 Men’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 8 Women’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 9 Men’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 11 Women’s Downhill 5 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Men’s Downhill 5 a.m Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Tue., Feb. 14 Team Parallel 6:15 a.m. Peacock
Men’s/Women’s Parallel Qualifying 11 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 15 Men’s/Women’s Parallel 6 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 16 Women’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Fri., Feb. 17 Men’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 18 Women’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 19 Men’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock

*Delayed broadcast
*All NBC coverage streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

2022-23 Alpine Skiing Season World Cup Schedule
Schedule will be added to as the season progresses. All NBC Sports TV coverage also streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Date Coverage Network/Platform Time (ET)
Sat., Oct. 22 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Sun., Oct. 23 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Soelden Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden Peacock 7 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 12 Women’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 6 a.m.
Women’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 12 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 13 Men’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 10 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 19 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 20 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Nov. 25 Men’s DH — Lake Louise (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 26 Women’s GS (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 27 Women’s SL (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:15 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 2 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 3 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sun., Dec. 4 Women’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 1 p.m.
Men’s SG — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sat., Dec. 10 Men’s GS (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 11 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Sestiere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 15 Men’s DH — Val Gardena Skiandsnowboard.live 6 a.m.
Fri., Dec. 16 Women’s DH — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SG — Val Gardena (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 5:45 a.m.
Sat., Dec. 17 Women’s DH — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s DH — Val Gardena Skiandsnowboard.live 5:45 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 18 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SG — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Mon., Dec. 19 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 22 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Madonna Skiandsnowboard.live 11:45 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Madonna Skiandsnowboard.live 2:45 p.m.
Tue., Dec. 27 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Semmering Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Wed., Dec. 28 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Semmering Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s DH — Bormio Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 29 Men’s SG — Bormio Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Semmering Peacock 9 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 4 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Zagreb Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Garmisch Skiandsnowboard.live 9:40 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Zagreb Skiandsnowboard.live 10:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Garmisch Skiandsnowboard.live 12:45 p.m.
Thu., Jan. 5 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Zagreb (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 9 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Zagreb (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 12 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 7 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 1) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 8 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Tue., Jan. 10 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Flachau Peacock 12 p.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Flachau Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Fri., Jan. 13 Men’s SG — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 6 a.m.
Sat., Jan. 14 Women’s SG — St. Anton Peacock 5 a.m.
Men’s DH — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 15 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SG — St. Anton Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Jan. 20 Women’s DH — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Sat., Jan. 21 Women’s DH — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel NBC 5 p.m.*
Sun., Jan. 22 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Kitzbühel Peacock 4:30 a.m.
Women’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Kitzbühel Peacock 7:30 a.m.
Tue., Jan. 24 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Schladming Peacock 11:45 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Schladming Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 25 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 1) — Schladming Peacock 11:45 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Schladming Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 28 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m
Men’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 5:10 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m
Sun., Jan. 29 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 3:15 a.m.
Men’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 6:15 a.m.
Sat., Feb. 4 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Chamonix Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Chamonix Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.

*Delayed broadcast.

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