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April Ross, Lauren Fendrick, after world silver, look to the future

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VIENNA — Lauren Fendrick stood to the left of partner April Ross at a post-match press conference at the world beach volleyball championships.

Fendrick suddenly asked to switch sides, realizing it would put a temporary tattoo of a sponsor’s logo on her right shoulder in view of the cameras. Flipping places also put Ross’ sponsors in a better position for exposure.

“Everything is clicking for us, both on and off the sand,” Fendrick said.

Fendrick and Ross earned the silver medal in Saturday’s final, falling to Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany in three sets.

The U.S. pair is less than three months into their partnership.

“I have always felt we had this potential,” Ross said. “I am kind of surprised at how much better we got with every single match, but where we got to, I knew we could get to.”

It was the first international medal of any color for Fendrick, 35, who bowed out of the Rio Olympic group stage with Brooke Sweat.

Ross, also 35, won the 2009 World title with Jen Kessy, as well as the 2012 Olympic silver medal with Kessy and the 2016 Olympic bronze medal with Kerri Walsh Jennings.

“This shows you what kind of leader April is,” said 2000 Olympic champion Dain Blanton, who was in Vienna as a TV analyst. “April went from a secondary role, playing with Kerri Walsh, to assuming a role that whoever she plays with, they bring their game up. April helped Lauren get to another level.”

Fendrick and Ross first met in high school, when they competed for rival club teams. The rivalry continued in college, with Fendrick playing indoor volleyball for UCLA and Ross representing USC.

They occasionally played together in the past, most notably finishing fifth at the 2015 World Tour Finals, but only debuted as full-time partners in June.

Fendrick received a call from Ross, who had recently split with Walsh Jennings, while attending the Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Championships in Tucson, Ariz. in late April.

“It was surprising for sure,” Fendrick said. “April is one of the best players in the world.”

Ross picked Fendrick because of her work ethic and blocking ability. No player has more career blocks at the world championships than the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.

“Nobody knows just how good of blocker she is better than I do,” Ross said. “I’ve seen it from both sides of the net.”

The mid-season partnership change required patience. They finished no better than ninth in their first three international tournaments, as Fendrick had to adjust to playing on the right side for the first time. Even their high-five routine required coordination.

“The more we play, the more we are meshing and finding our rhythm,” Ross said. “The chemistry has a lot to do with our long-term relationship and getting along so well.”

The pair will play in two upcoming domestic AVP tournaments. They are also hoping for a wild-card invitation to the World Tour Finals in Hamburg beginning Aug. 22.

They will then reevaluate their partnership at the end of the season.

“We are really good together, but we have to see what the future holds,” Ross said.

Ross’ main goal is making her third Olympic team in 2020.

“If I make that,” she said, “I can’t imagine not going for 2024.”

Ross was hoping Los Angeles would host the Olympics in 2024, when she will be 42. She grew up in Costa Mesa, Calif., and serves on the Athletes’ Advisory Commission for the Los Angeles bid committee.

But now it is expected that Paris will host the 2024 Games, while Los Angeles will wait until 2028.  Beach volleyball will be played near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, while Santa Monica Beach, which is considered the birthplace of sport, will be the setting in Los Angeles.

“I’ve had to change my mindset about it,” Ross said. “At first I was disappointed, because I wanted to play in Los Angeles [in 2024]. Now I realize I can still be involved in other ways.”

Ross expressed an interest in a future in broadcasting. She filmed a video interview with IOC President Thomas Bach and FIVB President Ary Graca in Vienna, and recently taught NBA players Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell how to play beach volleyball in a video for Gatorade.

“I love journalism,” she said. “It felt natural.”

She would also be open to other opportunities to help grow the sport, as well as make the experience better for the competitors.

“Beach volleyball is going to be epic in Santa Monica,” Ross said. “It’s going to be the place to be in 2028.”

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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