April Ross, Alix Klineman
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April Ross, Alix Klineman into beach volleyball worlds final

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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross reached her third world beach volleyball championships final with a third different partner.

Ross, 37, and Alix Klineman, 29, swept Australians Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar 21-15, 21-18 in Friday’s semifinals, advancing to Saturday’s final (9:15 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA).

They will face Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, looking to become the first Americans to win a world title since Ross and Jennifer Kessy in 2009.

A decade ago, Ross was in her fourth pro season and her third with Kessy.

“I was new on the beach,” Ross told media at worlds in Hamburg. “It was just kind of like ignorance is bliss. We were firing on all cylinders and doing the best we can. Now I feel like there’s a method to the madness a little bit.”

Kessy, who earned Olympic silver with Ross in 2012, now coaches Ross and Klineman, who paired after Ross split from Rio Olympic bronze-medal partner Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017. Ross earned world silver in 2017 with Lauren Fendrick before partnering with Klineman later that year.

Klineman, the 2007 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year out of high school, is in just her second international season. The 6-foot-5 Klineman said that this season has brought “a wave of improvement.”

Earlier Friday, Ross and Klineman eliminated the other remaining U.S. women’s team of Sara Hughes and Summer Ross 21-18, 21-14 in the quarterfinals. Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, were eliminated in the round of 32 for Walsh Jennings’ earliest career exit at an Olympics or worlds.

All these results are key in Olympic qualifying, which is near the midpoint. Worlds carry the most Olympic qualifying points of any tournament in the two-year window, and only two pairs per country maximum go to Tokyo.

Ross and Klineman are in best position of the U.S. pairs. Walsh Jennings and Sweat and Hughes and Ross are among the teams also in the mix with nearly a year left in the qualifying window.

Two U.S. men’s teams are still alive at worlds — 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb. The men’s quarterfinals and semifinals are Saturday.

NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit contributed to this report from Hamburg.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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