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U.S. men end volleyball worlds medal drought; Poland repeats as champion

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The U.S. men’s volleyball team heads into the Olympics as a world championship medalist for the first time since the Atlanta Games, taking bronze at the quadrennial tournament that wrapped Sunday.

The Americans, after losing to eventual world champ Poland in the semifinals, came back to beat Serbia 23-25, 25-17, 32-30, 25-19 in the bronze-medal game, its first world medal since 1994.

The U.S. played Serbia 17 hours after its five-set semifinal loss that ended at 11:53 p.m. in Torino.

“It’s really hard to play bronze-medal matches; we unfortunately know that,” said U.S. coach John Speraw, referencing the Rio Olympics, where the U.S. blew a two sets-to-one semifinal lead over Italy but overcame a 2-0 deficit to down Russia for bronze. “I didn’t get to sleep until 4 in the morning.”

The U.S. roster of 14 included eight Rio Olympic bronze medalists. Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament. Matt Anderson was best opposite.

Later Sunday, Poland repeated as world champion, sweeping Olympic gold medalist Brazil in the final. The Brazilians reached the final of the last five worlds and the last four Olympics.

In 2014, Poland had an epic run to gold, claiming its first title since 1974 and becoming the first host nation since Czechoslovakia in 1966 to prevail. Poland was fifth at the 2012 Olympics and ranked fifth in the world before that tournament.

More than 12,000 spectators watched that gold-medal final inside Spodek Hall, including the Polish president. More than 15,000 followed it outside the arena on big screens, according to the FIVB.

This Olympic cycle is the first for the U.S. men without any ties to its 2008 Olympic champion team (so far). The two gold medalists who made the Rio roster — David Lee and Reid Priddy — spent the summer playing beach volleyball on the AVP tour.

The U.S. last earned a world title in 1986.

MORE: U.S. volleyball’s ‘Slugger’ goes from coaching to MVP

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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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