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Kerri Walsh Jennings, Nicole Branagh end beach volleyball partnership

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh ended the longest-standing partnership at the top level of U.S. women’s beach volleyball after a little more than one year.

“Nicole and I have decided to end our beach volleyball partnership,” Walsh Jennings said, via her agent. “We had a really wonderful year plus together, and yet our finishes and our trajectory were unsatisfactory. We are both excited to figure out next steps with regard to our next partnerships. I know we both have big plans and dreams for ourselves in the sport and so the journeying will continue!”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, has not announced a new partner with the lengthy Olympic qualifying window starting in September.

The pair withdrew from next week’s FIVB World Tour event in Vienna, Austria. Branagh is still entered in this week’s AVP event in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Walsh no longer plays AVP after a contract dispute.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, a pair of 39-year-olds with a combined five children, were bidding to together become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball players in history in Tokyo.

They partnered last year after Walsh Jennings and April Ross split less than a year after their bronze in Rio as Ross signed her AVP contract. Branagh was not Walsh Jennings’ first choice. The three-time gold medalist with the now-retired Misty May-Treanor appealed to the younger Sara Hughes, who declined.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh never found consistency in competition, in part because Walsh Jennings’ 2017 season ended prematurely with her sixth right shoulder surgery (followed by an ankle surgery).

In 10 FIVB tournaments together, their best finish was fourth, and they had just one other quarterfinal appearance.

Every other top-level U.S. beach volleyball player changed partners since Walsh Jennings and Branagh teamed up. Ross is now with Alix Klineman. The U.S. can qualify no more than two pairs for the Tokyo Games in two years.

MORE: 20 U.S. athletes to watch, 2 years out from Tokyo 2020

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Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)