April Ross, Alix Klineman take silver at beach volleyball worlds

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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman took silver at the world beach volleyball championships, getting swept 23-21, 23-21 in the final by Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in Hamburg, Germany on Saturday.

“I’m pretty upset,” Ross told media in Hamburg, adding that she and Klineman did not play their best. “To get here and have it be Alix’s first world championships, it would have been so amazing to win the gold. … It stings a ton.”

Ross, 37, earned a world medal with a third different partner after taking gold with her now-coach Jennifer Kessy in 2009 and silver with Lauren Fendrick in 2017, four months before announcing her new partnership with Klineman. No U.S. men’s or women’s team has won a world title since 2009.

Klineman, 29, nearly scaled the heights of the sport in just her third season since switching from a professional indoor career.

“She’s already one of the best players in the world,” Ross said. “It’s really scary for other teams.”

Ross and Klineman consolidated their lead in U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with about a year’s worth of tournaments left. The top two U.S. pairs come June are in line to go to Tokyo.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings, who split from Rio bronze-medal partner Ross in 2017, and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, are in the mix but took a step back with Walsh Jennings’ earliest career exit from an Olympics or worlds.

Pavan and Humana-Paredes have been one of the world’s formidable teams since pairing to start this Olympic cycle. But this marked their first tournament win this season.

Pavan, who helped Nebraska to the 2006 NCAA women’s indoor title with U.S. Olympic indoor captain Jordan Larson, lost in the Rio Olympic quarterfinals with former partner Heather Bansley.

In men’s action Saturday, Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb fell in the semifinals to Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy 21-13, 19-21, 15-11 after upsetting Brazilians Andre and George in the quarterfinals.

The top U.S. team of the last few years, 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, were eliminated by Germans Julius Thole and Clemens Wickler 21-18, 21-17 in the quarterfinals.

NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit contributed to this report.

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings has earliest Olympic/worlds exit of career

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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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