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49-year-old Olympic beach volleyball champion plays first event in 10 years

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Eric Fonoimoana, a 49-year-old who earned 2000 Olympic beach volleyball gold, played his first pro tournament since 2008 at the AVP stop in Hermosa Beach, Calif., this week.

Fonoimoana teamed with Jeremy Casebeer, who sought a last-minute sub for his injured partner, Reid Priddy, a 40-year-old who earned Olympic indoor gold at Beijing 2008 and Priddy’s injured replacement, Matt Olson.

Casebeer called Fonoimoana on Wednesday to ask if he would play, two days before the tournament.

“I was like, what? You sure you got the right number?” said Fonoimoana, who had never teamed with Casebeer but knew him a little bit from beach volleyball circles.

Fonoimoana, who still plays recreationally to stay in shape, signed up.

“I do play still at a high level, but more than anything my body’s healthy, which it’s been like four years since I could actually say that,” said Fonoimoana, who underwent left and right knee surgeries and rotator cuff surgery, as well as stem-cell and PRP knee injections until finding a balance that allowed him to jump and land on the sand. “It was a chance to see if I could still take it on and compete at that level.”

The pair won their first match over Bobby Jacobs and Michael Boag 21-16, 21-14 before losing to 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Jason Lochhead 21-10, 21-12 and then dropping a relegation bracket three-setter.

“Fans were excited to see me get back out there,” Fonoimoana said. “My friends were excited to root me on and see if I could beat some of those guys.”

Lochhead is actually the coach of Dalhausser and Rio Olympic partner Nick Lucena, but Lucena is out injured, too.

Fonoimoana, who lives in Southern California and works in real estate, is open to playing a one-off tournament again. It would be reminiscent of Misty May-Treanor, who came out of a three-year retirement to play three AVP events between 2015 and 2016 with no intention of getting back on the international level.

“The issue for me is about the start, stop and recovery,” Fonoimoana said. “If it was to play one match at a high level, I know I can play at a high level. It’s diminishing returns as far as me being able to get back and warm up and recover at that same level.”

NBCSN airs the Hermosa Beach Open on Sunday night/Monday morning at 12 a.m. ET. Dain Blanton, Fonoimana’s 2000 Olympic gold-medal partner, is a reporter on the coverage.

Fonoimoana, nicknamed “The Body” for his tremendous physique before retiring, and Blanton had a stunning run to gold at the 2000 Sydney Games, the second edition of Olympic beach volleyball. Neither player had previously won an international tournament, and Fonoimoana never won another international event before retiring.

He keeps the gold medal in a safe deposit box, bringing it out for speaking events or to show younger players and students. Fonoimoana provided inspiration on the sand on Friday without wearing it.

“The thing I got most out of it is so many players, ex-players, the fans, they said, my gosh, you relay motivated me,” he said. “At this point in my carer or journey of life, it’s great to be a motivator again.”

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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