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

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”