Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat win first tournament title together

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour
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Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ 56th international tournament title was among the most special. It marked her first in nearly three years (her longest drought), and the first ever for her new partner, Brooke Sweat. At 40, she became the oldest woman to win an FIVB World Tour event.

“It’s been so long,” Walsh Jennings said after the Americans doused Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy 21-17, 21-19 in Sunday’s final of a four-star event in Jinjiang, China.

For Walsh Jennings, who has the same number of kids as Olympic golds, and the Rio Olympian Sweat, it means they are closer to, if not in the driver’s seat for one of two U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo. Walsh Jennings is bidding to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history in 2020.

The U.S. Olympic qualifying standings, which will count each pair’s 12 best results together, with still more than a year to go:

1. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,900 (8 events played)
2. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,500 (6 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,240 (5 events)
5. Sponcil/Claes — 2,080 (4 events, have a higher per-event average than Walsh Jennings/Sweat)
6. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)

Walsh Jennings and Sweat’s breakthrough win came earlier Sunday, when they dispatched Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-19, 19-21, 15-13 in the semifinals. Agatha and her previous partner, Barbara, handed Walsh Jennings her lone Olympic beach volleyball defeat in the semifinals in Rio. Duda, 20, is a world champion at the U19, U21 and Youth Olympic level.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat announced their partnership Oct. 9, after a tumultuous two years for Walsh Jennings and nearly 15 years after Sweat first saw Walsh Jennings at a Toyota dealership exhibition in her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University.

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 paired with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh. They had a best 2018 finish of fifth in six FIVB World Tour events before splitting.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who went winless in Rio with Lauren Fendrick and then had her second shoulder surgery, have a pair of thirds, a runner-up and now a win in eight events together.

“Looking forward to more,” Sweat, after her first career gold in more than 60 international events, said Sunday.

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VIDEO: Beach volleyball Olympian surprises her team with baby announcement

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona World Championships women’s pro race

Ironman Kona World Championship
Ironman
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics
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Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

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