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Kerri Walsh Jennings’ first choice for new partner said no

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Kerri Walsh Jennings may be the greatest beach volleyball player of all time, but she was reportedly turned down by her top choice for a new partner after splitting from April Ross.

Walsh Jennings had her eye on promising 22-year-old Sara Hughes after a four-year partnership with Ross ended in May.

“All I wanted to do was play with [Hughes],” Walsh Jennings said recently, according to ESPN.com.

Walsh Jennings reached out multiple times, but Hughes turned her down, according to the report.

Hughes, arguably the most promising U.S. beach prospect since Walsh Jennings in the early 2000s, chose to continue her budding partnership with former University of Southern California teammate Kelly Claes.

Hughes and Claes, while still at USC, were the only pair to take a set off Walsh Jennings and Ross in 2016 AVP play, losing in three sets a month and a half before Rio.

Hughes and Claes had scant international experience at the time and thus did not make the Rio Olympic team.

But this season, they have made two FIVB World Tour event quarterfinals after being part of a fourth straight NCAA title-winning team at USC. They’re one of the top U.S. pairs heading into the world championships in three weeks.

After Hughes declined, Walsh Jennings found her new partner later in May in Nicole Branagh, a 2008 Olympian and 38-year-old mother of two. Walsh Jennings, also 38, has three kids.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh lost their first three matches together before reaching the round of 16 in Gstaad, Switzerland, last week. (Walsh Jennings lost four straight overall dating to her last match with Ross, marking the longest losing streak in her 16-year career)

Walsh Jennings has repeated that she and Branagh will decide after this season whether they will continue playing together.

However, they both said they hope to play together through the Tokyo Olympics, according to ESPN, which also reported that Walsh Jennings may have retired after Rio had she and Ross won gold instead of bronze.

Come Tokyo 2020, Walsh Jennings and Branagh will both be older than any previous Olympic men’s or women’s indoor or beach volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

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MORE: April Ross discusses playing without Kerri Walsh Jennings

Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight action at European Championships

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez competes for what is expected to be the final time this weekend at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus. Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is also looking to defend her title in the ladies’ field.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program starting on Wednesday, and NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage.

MORE: Schedule/ How to watch

Men

Fernandez, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist, owns six European titles. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez. Fernandez traded world titles during the last Olympic quadrennial with his training partner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. They both train in Toronto under Brian Orser.

Also in the field are Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who most recently finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final at age 28, and three Russian men: Mikhail Kolyada, Maxim Kovtun, and Alexander Samarin.

Ladies

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova could lead a Russian podium sweep at the 2019 European Championships with teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova.

The competition-within-the-competition at Europeans is also notable: Russia will not choose their World team until after the event. For example, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is not competing at Europeans, and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was already told to train for Worlds despite not competing at Europeans.

Pairs

French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will try and buck a trend at Europeans, where teams representing Russia or the Soviet Union have won 47 of the last 54 titles. Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are looking for a three-peat, though have been inconsistent so far this season and recently returned to last season’s short program.

James and Cipres missed out on bronze by 0.01 points at the 2018 Europeans, and could become the first French pair to win the event since 1932. The last non-Russian team to win Europeans was Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in 2011.

Ice dance

Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France should coast to the gold medal in Minsk for a fifth consecutive title. Other dance teams have won more European titles, but no team has ever won five in a row.

The rest of the podium is more unclear. The Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, will likely split the difference between the two Russian teams – who have their own domestic battle to contend with: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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How to watch the European Figure Skating Championships

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Javier Fernandez returns to competition for probably a final time with his eyes on a seventh title at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus Jan. 23-27.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova looks for a second European title in the ladies’ field, while two couples from France look to top the podiums in the dance and pairs’ fields.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Minsk starting Wednesday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage throughout the weekend.

Preview: Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight Europeans

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European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Wednesday

Ladies’ short program: 3 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ short program: 10:45 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Thursday

Men’s short program: 4 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ free skate: 11 a.m. (GOLD), begins at 11 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Friday

Rhythm dance: 3:30 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN

Ladies’ free skate: 10 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 6 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Saturday

Men’s free skate: 3:15 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 11 a.m. on NBCSN

Free dance: 8:25 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Sunday

Ladies’ and men’s free skate: 1:30 p.m. on NBC