Kerri Walsh Jennings
AP

Kerri Walsh Jennings confirms plan to retire, narrows partner list

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ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Kerri Walsh Jennings will call it a career in beach volleyball after the Tokyo Olympics in two years.

She has big plans before her days on the sand are done, and for improving the long-term health and growth of the sport well into the future by creating new playing opportunities in the U.S.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist absolutely expects to go out with another gold around her neck from the 2020 Games after she and partner April Ross wound up with bronze at Rio in 2016, a heartbreaking disappointment that still stings for Walsh Jennings yet fuels her at the same time.

“I haven’t shouted it from the mountaintops,” Walsh Jennings said Thursday of her career timeline in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

It may sound like a daunting task ahead: Walsh Jennings will turn 42 during the next Olympics. She has yet to settle on a partner, after she and Nicole Branagh split last month, though she has narrowed down her choice to two women. She is also coming off a pair of surgeries last year on her right shoulder and left ankle.

Just three weeks ago she began using the shoulder to hit the ball with her usual power and motion.

“I have no partner. I just came off two surgeries, and I know I’m going to win gold in Tokyo,” she said emphatically of her Olympic hurrah despite her share of lows in recent years. “… It makes this one and this journey that much more meaningful.”

Back home in the Bay Area to promote her upcoming beach volleyball extravaganza — “it’s a movement” she says — to be held at the San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium in late September.

The “p1440” event featuring volleyball, health and wellness resources and opportunities, music, kids’ experiences and much more will go Sept. 28-30. Tickets went on sale Thursday, and additional events are scheduled for Las Vegas, San Diego and Huntington Beach this year and four more cities in 2019.

Walsh Jennings and husband Casey are committed to living each day to the fullest, all 1,440 minutes, inspiring the name.

“It’s all about living in the moment,” she said. “I certainly need to practice what I preach. It’s knowing what I want in life.”

They have long wanted to have their own academy, and now p1440 will combine a competition environment with opportunities for personal development no matter someone’s fitness level or physical challenge with the support of sports psychology and a technology platform and educational tools.

Walsh Jennings is striving to be her best every day and is driven to “live in my strengths,” whether that means being present for her husband and three children, dealing with her failures as well as her triumphs, or remembering to take a moment each morning and night to remind herself what she is most grateful for in her life.

After failing to win gold in Rio, Walsh Jennings struggled to find her top form because she was “living in fear on the court.” Even after earning bronze in ’16, she carried the weight of her defeat with her for months and years. That had never happened before.

Now, at last, she has come through that. With help from those close to her each step of the way, of course.

“We are pure positivity,” she said. “I really do believe happiness is a choice. I really believe staying positive is a choice.”

She had a falling out with the Association of Volleyball Professionals at the end of 2016 and has since ventured out on her own by taking on the formation of p1440 with huge aspirations of making it stick as a viable option for professionals.

Walsh Jennings insists volleyball can be a sport that has a far greater reach than just the every-four-years Olympic chase when people tend to tune in to see one of the Games’ most popular events.

That’s why Walsh Jennings believes she still has so much to give in beach volleyball and far beyond.

“I think I would have retired if we won gold in Rio,” said Walsh Jennings, who first hinted at one more Olympic run in December 2016, then said in April that 2020 would be her final Games. “This is my platform. I’m not done with my platform. That loss is going to serve me in so many different ways.”

Losing in Rio while “performing terribly” has changed Walsh Jennings. She has learned from it and become better for it.

“It’s so liberating when your weaknesses are exposed,” she said, “when you live your worst nightmare and survive.”

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

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Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

Chris Corning
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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

Simon Ammann
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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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