Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour

Kerri Walsh Jennings boosts Olympic hopes with best finish in three years

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Kerri Walsh Jennings made her first tournament final since 2016 this week. She likely must reach more in what’s looking like her toughest road to an Olympic beach volleyball berth.

Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old, triple Olympic champion, and new partner Brooke Sweat took runner-up at a mid-level FIVB World Tour event in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

Accomplished Czechs Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova rallied past the Americans 24-26, 22-20, 15-12. But Walsh Jennings and Sweat still earned enough points to jump to the top of the very early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings.

1. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 2,620 (6 events played)
2. Klineman/Ross – 2,440 (4 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Larsen/Stockman — 1,680 (4 events)
5. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)
5. Hughes/Ross — 1,600 (3 events)

The key is that Walsh Jennings and Sweat have played the most events of the contending teams. The top two pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Each team’s 12 best results go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. Alix Klineman and April Ross are in a stronger current position than Walsh Jennings and Sweat because they’re averaging more points per tournament having played two fewer events.

The Kuala Lumpur field lacked any teams from powerhouse Brazil. Also absent were Ross and Klineman and Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, the two U.S. teams to win top-level events last season.

Kuala Lumpur marked the sixth international event for Walsh Jennings since splitting from 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh and partnering with Sweat last fall.

Walsh Jennings’ 2017 season, after she and Rio Olympic bronze-medal partner April Ross split, ended prematurely with her sixth right shoulder surgery (followed by an ankle surgery). She said before the 2018 season that the 2020 Olympics would be her last, assuming she qualifies.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh had a best 2018 finish of fifth in six FIVB events before splitting. She and Sweat, who partnered with Lauren Fendrick in Rio, have a pair of thirds and now a runner-up in six events together.

Another veteran Olympian, 41-year-old Reid Priddy, had his best career finish by making the Kuala Lumpur final with Theo Brunner. Brazilians Alison and Alvaro Filho swept them 24-22, 21-18.

Priddy switched to the sand after competing in his fourth Olympic indoor tournament in Rio. Priddy and Brunner are one of several U.S. men’s teams jockeying for two potential Olympic berths.

The top U.S. men’s team in this Olympic cycle has clearly been 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who were absent from Kuala Lumpur and have played just two events in the Olympic qualifying window, finishing second in one of them.

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VIDEO: Beach volleyball Olympian surprises her team with baby announcement

Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter dies at 65

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

It is virtually impossible to avoid the name “Burton” once the snow starts falling at any given mountain around the world these days. The name is plastered on the bottoms of snowboards, embroidered on jackets, stenciled into bindings.

At a bar in Pyeongchang, South Korea, not far from where snowboarding celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Olympics last year, there was a wall filled with Burton pictures and memorabilia — as sure a sign as any of the global reach of a company founded in his garage in Londonderry, Vermont.

The company sponsored pretty much every top rider at one time or another — from Shaun White to Kelly Clark to Chloe Kim.

Carpenter watched all his champions win their Olympic golds from near the finish line, never afraid to grind away in the mosh pit of snowboarders and snowboarding fans that he helped create.

In an interview in 2010, he said he was happy with how far his sport had come, and comfortable with where it was going.

“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said. “We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”

Lacy said details about the celebration of Burton’s life would be coming soon but, for now, “I’d encourage everyone to do what Jake would be doing tomorrow, and that’s riding. It’s opening day at Stowe, so consider taking some turns together, in celebration of Jake.”

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Grieving Mikaela Shiffrin returns to World Cup Alpine action with fourth reindeer at stake

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The traditional World Cup Alpine skiing season opener last month in Soelden, Austria, was an emotional one for Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin’s grandmother, Pauline Condron, was in declining health in the days leading up to the race, making Shiffrin wonder if she should head home instead of staying in Soelden. Condron was especially close to Shiffrin, helping to take care of her soon after birth.

Condron passed away Oct. 22, four days before the Soelden giant slalom, at age 98.

“Polly loved sports,” Condron’s obituary said. “She was an avid bowler in her younger years and enjoyed playing tennis and skiing. Few people know that she excelled at ping pong, had a killer serve, gave up very few games and played into her 90s.”

Condron was able to see Shiffrin in person at World Cup races in Killington, Vt. The World Cup will return next weekend to Killington, which has just passed its FIS inspection.

Shiffrin finished second in Soelden’s giant slalom to an upstart rival, 17-year-old New Zealander Alice Robinson. Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the giant slalom, but she hasn’t won in Soelden since 2014.

In the slalom, Shiffrin is more dominant. She won eight of nine World Cup races last year, losing only to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, and won her fourth straight world championship despite battling illness. The last time Shiffrin finished worse than second in the technical discipline was in the 2018 Olympics, when she uncharacteristically faltered and finished fourth.

Saturday’s race in Levi, Finland, is a slalom. Shiffrin has won three of the last five races in Levi, which means she also has three reindeer  Rudolph, Sven and Mr. Gru. She can win a fourth on Saturday.

The men also have a slalom this weekend in Levi, racing Sunday.

Both runs for each event stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET, with the Olympic Channel also carrying the second runs each day.

MORE: Alpine skiing TV schedule

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