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 Jennings 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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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Olympic 400m champion, announces pregnancy

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Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the two-time reigning Olympic 400m champion, announced she is pregnant with her first child.

“New Year, New Blessing,” she posted on social media with husband Maicel Uibo, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist in the decathlon for Estonia. “We can’t wait to meet our little bundle of joy.”

Miller-Uibo, 28, followed her repeat Olympic title in Tokyo by winning her first world indoor and outdoor titles last year.

Also last year, Miller-Uibo said she planned to drop the 400m and focus on the 200m going into the 2024 Paris Games rather than possibly bid to become the first woman to win the same individual Olympic running event three times.

She has plenty of experience in the 200m, making her world championships debut in that event in 2013 and placing fourth. She earned 200m bronze at the 2017 Worlds, was the world’s fastest woman in the event in 2019 and petitioned for a Tokyo Olympic schedule change to make a 200m-400m double easier. The petition was unsuccessful.

She did both races anyway, finishing last in the 200m final, 1.7 seconds behind the penultimate finisher on the same day of the 400m first round.

She did not race the 200m at last July’s worlds, where the 200m and 400m overlapped.

Notable moms to win individual Olympic sprint titles include American Wilma Rudolph, who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1960 Rome Olympics two years after having daughter Yolanda.

And Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games.

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