Robert Beck/AVP

How April Ross, Alix Klineman became beach volleyball’s A-Team

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross approached Alix Klineman, a rookie, in summer 2017.

Ross mentioned she would be looking for a new partner after splitting with Kerri Walsh Jennings.

“I said, ‘OK let me know,’” Klineman recalled. “And she said, ‘No, you need to get better first.’”

Additional motivation for Klineman, who had recently transitioned to the sand after a decorated indoor career in which she was named the Volleyball Magazine National Player of the Year for her senior season at Stanford.

Klineman adapted to beach volleyball quickly and was named the top rookie on the domestic AVP Tour.

When the 2017 season ended, Ross invited Klineman to a three-day tryout. After it wrapped, Klineman delivered an impassioned pitch to Ross.

She expressed her desire to go to the Olympics and win a beach volleyball gold medal, after sacrificing a six-figure salary playing indoors in 2016 to make less than 10 percent as much on the sand in 2017.

“It was pretty out of character, because normally I’m more reserved,” Klineman said. “But I didn’t want her to have a reason not to pick me.”

Klineman anxiously waited about a week while Ross traveled abroad. When Ross returned, she asked Klineman to be her partner.

“Our mentalities are so similar,” Ross said about the 6-foot-5 Klineman, the co-tallest woman on the international tour. “That was the deciding factor for me, but it doesn’t hurt that she’s so physical and has so much potential.”

They just needed a team nickname.

Ross solicited ideas from her fans on social media. After combing through hundreds of submissions, she awarded Instagram user tammyjzhao a signed volleyball for suggesting “The A-Team.”

“I know it’s super obvious because of April and Alix,” said Ross, who warms up with nunchucks. “But then you think of the correlations with Mr. T and ‘I pity the fool’ and the missions they went on. We liked how that sounded.”

Success came immediately.

They won their first tournament together in the Netherlands in January 2018. Klineman became just the third woman to win her international debut.

“We saw winning the first tournament as a sign,” Ross said. “We can do this, we have that potential, so let’s keep working towards it.”

“The A-Team” is coached by Jen Kessy, Ross’ 2012 Olympic silver medal teammate.

“Jen brings a nice lightness to our team,” Klineman said in an interview at the AVP New York City Open, which she and Ross won for their fifth straight title on the domestic tour. “April and I can be really intense sometimes. So Jen will say, ‘This is getting really heavy. You guys need to chill out and laugh a little bit.’”

Kessy has influenced everything from preparation to celebration.

Players have just 12 seconds to serve after a point is scored on the international tour, but the clock does not start until the players finish celebrating. Kessy therefore instructed Klineman and Ross to hug after points to maximize rest, earning them a second nickname: “Team Hugs.”

“They’ve taken team hugs to a different level,” Kessy said. “I was thinking after long rallies, but they hug after every single play.”

Klineman and Ross are collecting Olympic qualification points. The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020 go to Tokyo, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally.

Fellow Americans Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat have a higher aggregation of Olympic qualification points, but a lower per-tournament average since they have played in three more events than the A-Team. The final standings will only include each pair’s 12 best results together.

“You don’t necessarily need to play in every event because someone else might get ahead,” Kessy said. “We need to look strategically where we can do the best.”

Ross will be 38 years old during the 2020 Games. She will be the third-oldest woman at this summer’s world championships.

“She doesn’t look like she’s slowing down at all,” said the 29-year-old Klineman. “That’s got to be a little scary for the volleyball world and her opponents.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Beach volleyball Olympian surprises her team with baby announcement

Simona Halep follows Wimbledon win with Romania Olympic honor

Getty Images
Leave a comment

New Wimbledon champion Simona Halep appears set to be a flag bearer at the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony after a smile and nod from the president of Romania’s Olympic Committee.

Halep discussed the idea at a press conference in Bucharest on Monday, with the Olympic official Mihai Covaliu standing behind her. Covaliu was asked to confirm and obliged, according to Romanian reports.

Halep’s primary goal since winning her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 French Open is an Olympic medal. She repeated that desire after sweeping Serena Williams in Saturday’s final at the All England Club.

Halep skipped the Rio Games, citing Zika virus concerns three weeks before the Opening Ceremony. She did play at the 2012 London Games, losing in the first round when she was ranked No. 48.

Halep, who is friends with Romania’s most famous Olympian, gymnast Nadia Comaneci, would not be Romania’s first Olympic tennis medalist.

Florin Mergea and Horia Tecău took men’s doubles silver in Rio.

MORE: Tennis matches shortened at Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Noah Lyles will not race 100m at USATF Outdoors; plans Olympic double

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Noah Lyles confirmed after his most recent 100m on Friday that he will not race the event at next week’s USATF Outdoor Championships, opting to focus on his best event, the 200m.

“That’s what I’ve been saying for a few months now,” Lyles told LetsRun.com after finishing second to world champion Justin Gatlin at a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.

Still, Lyles said he discussed the potential 100m-200m double with his coach over the weekend, but they kept the plan to save him strictly for the 200m, according to Reuters.

“We have already decided to do the double next year at the Olympic Trials,” Lyles said, according to the report.

The double is more feasible at the 2020 Olympic trials, which is spread over 10 days, than at next week’s nationals, which are four days. The 100m is contested on Thursday and Friday and the 200m on Saturday and Sunday.

The double is also more feasible at the 2020 Olympics, where there is a full day off between the 100m final and the 200m first round, than the world championships in Doha in late September, when the 200m first round is the day after the 100m final.

Lyles must be cognizant of two other things: that he pulled out during the 2017 USATF Outdoors with a hamstring injury, forcing him to miss that season’s world championships. And that competing in the 100m, his complementary event, could tire him for the later 200m, though he is the overwhelming favorite in the latter and the top three per event make the team for this fall’s worlds in Doha.

Lyles, 22, ranks second in the world in the 100m this year behind countryman Christian Coleman, who is expected to do the 100m-200m double next week. Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion, giving the U.S. four world spots in the event.

Lyles is the fastest 200m sprinter in the world this year by a comfortable two tenths of a second. He clocked 19.50 seconds in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 5, a time bettered in history only by Usain BoltYohan Blake and Michael Johnson.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Wayde van Niekerk has setback in return from injury