Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat win first tournament title together

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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

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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