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LA traffic ends U.S. Olympic beach volleyball partnership

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Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson have been nearly inseparable as neighbors in Huntington Beach, Calif. since teaming up in 2013.

They can often be found playing co-ed beach volleyball with their wives. They even take their kids to the same preschool.

But when Patterson moved roughly 75 miles to Thousand Oaks for a new job recently, the 2016 AVP Men’s Team of the Year decided to end their partnership.

“It’s about a two-hour drive north, at best,” Gibb said in a phone interview. “We could have tried to make it work, but it just didn’t make sense.”

They considered breaking up even before the partnership became geographically undesirable when Patterson accepted the Beach Volleyball Director position at Sports Academy, a sports and fitness facility that he describes as a “Disneyland for athletes.”

They underwhelmed at the 2016 Olympics, finishing last in their pool after arriving in Rio as the No. 6 seed out of 24 teams. By the end of the 2016 international season, Tri Bourne and John Hyden had passed Gibb and Patterson in the standings as the second-best U.S. team, behind Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena.

“We needed something to change to ignite the fire again,” Patterson said.

The offseason after an Olympics often turns into a drama-filled frenzy as beach volleyball players search for new partners for the next quadrennial. Kerri Walsh Jennings famously approached rival April Ross at the net after the 2012 Olympic gold medal match to discuss a potential partnership.

Patterson reached out to Dalhausser, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist. Patterson revealed that he had decided to become a defensive specialist with the goal of eventually partnering with Dalhausser, a dominant blocker. Dalhausser listened, but ultimately remained with Lucena.

“Both of those guys are so rad that the thought of attempting to break them up was tough for me,” Patterson said. “But you have to try.”

Patterson also approached Tri Bourne, Theo Brunner and Ryan Doherty. Once the partnership carousel stopped spinning, Patterson aligned Brunner, Lucena’s former teammate.

“It’s like the ‘Real Housewives of Beach Volleyball,’” Patterson said. “There’s so much drama when guys are trying to find a new partner.”

Gibb will play with Taylor Crabb, who was named the 2016 AVP Defender of the Year. Gibb said that Crabb reminds him of Sean Rosenthal, his partner when he finished fifth at both the 2008 and 2012 Games.

“[Crabb] is incredibly gifted,” Gibb said. “His beach IQ is through the roof.”

Gibb and Patterson are expected to debut with their new partners on Feb. 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Gibb will be 44 years old during the 2020 Tokyo Games. He would become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player of all time if he represents the U.S. in Tokyo.

“I can’t turn away from this sport as long as I think I can still win,” Gibb said. “I still feel like I can, so I am going to keep playing.”

U.S. beach volleyball teams (Partners since)

Tri Bourne/John Hyden (2013)
Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena (2015)
Ryan Doherty/John Mayer (2015)
Theo Brunner/Casey Patterson (New)
Taylor Crabb/Jake Gibb (New)
Trevor Crabb/Sean Rosenthal (New)

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings ponders future with April Ross starting a family

Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Israel, judo federation hail letter from Iran; Tehran silent

Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

United World Wrestling
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Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

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