Taylor Crabb, Trevor Crabb
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Crabb brothers, once beach volleyball partners, now rivals for Olympic spot

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Trevor Crabb and Taylor Crabb began this Olympic cycle as beach volleyball partners. The brothers are now rivals, competing against one another for an Olympic berth.

“It’s a good story, how it ended,” Trevor said of their breakup.

The climax came at the first AVP event after the 2016 Olympics (the Crabbs didn’t qualify for Rio). Trevor, 26, and Taylor, 24, reached the semifinals in Chicago, two match wins from their first title together.

Trevor said they were required to attend a sponsor-thrown player party on the Saturday night before the final four. He left the gathering early to rest before the last day of the tournament.

“Taylor ended up staying out all night and partying,” Trevor said, laughing. “I show up the next morning to the player tent, and I see him, and I could just tell that he was completely hung over.”

Taylor confirmed the story. They were swept out of the semifinals 21-12, 21-16 in what turned out to be their last match as partners.

“That was kind of the tipping point right then,” Trevor said. “We just got annihilated in the semis and were totally just yelling at each other the whole match.”

The Crabbs flew back to Redondo Beach, Calif., where they share a home.

“[Trevor] was sitting on the couch, and I walked to him,” Taylor said. “I said, hey, I think we should play with separate partners going forward. He says, yeah, sounds good. That was it.

“At that point we weren’t talking at all. While we were playing together, we strictly played volleyball together and that’s it. We didn’t hang out. We didn’t do anything together.”

They broke the news to their parents.

“I was disappointed that they chose not to [keep playing together], but I think it’s helped them grow,” said Paula Crabb, a longtime champion canoe racer who just started her 44th year as a physical education teacher at Honolulu’s Punahou School, which produced Barack Obama.

“I was there when he was,” she said of Obama, who graduated in 1979. “He was on the basketball team. I didn’t teach him, though.”

Though Taylor was out too late in Chicago, he won the breakup.

After that AVP event, he connected with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb, who was looking for a new partner after playing with Casey Patterson in Rio. Though Gibb was 40, he was still one of the best U.S. blockers and, importantly for Taylor, had a bevy of FIVB points to earn automatic entry into events.

Trevor had no partner immediately lined up. He played with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal and John Mayer before teaming with childhood friend Tri Bourne, with whom he’s now making a Tokyo 2020 run.

Paula, who has the summers off from teaching, now splits time watching each son’s matches. Sometimes they play at the same time on different courts. She doesn’t keep close track of Olympic qualifying, but she knows both are in the running.

“It would be great if both of them did,” get to Tokyo, she said. “Both following their dreams. If one did, that’s great, too. I’ll take anything right now.”

This weekend’s season-ending FIVB World Tour Finals could prove critical for the Crabbs and their new partners. They are among three U.S. teams chasing a maximum of two Olympic spots.

Olympic qualifying, which began last year, runs into June, but the 2020 season schedule hasn’t been set yet. The World Tour Finals, which award the maximum qualifying points among annual tournaments, could be the last five-star-level event before the Tokyo Games.

Right now, Trevor and Bourne lead the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with 5,600 points in 11 tournaments. In second place: 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his partner, Nick Lucena, with 4,880. In third: Taylor and Gibb with 4,260.

A caveat: Trevor and Bourne have played 11 tournaments. Dalhausser and Lucena and Taylor and Gibb have each played nine. Come the Olympic qualifying cutoff in June, each team’s 12 best results are counted. Going by average points gained so far, Dalhausser and Lucena are in the lead (542 per event), followed by Trevor and Bourne (509) and Taylor and Gibb (473). The U.S. teams must also attain a certain international ranking to qualify. That’s not guaranteed and could create more complications.

Taylor and Gibb were in better position at the start of 2019, but they haven’t made any semifinals this international season. Meanwhile, Trevor and Bourne made a stunning run to the world championships semifinals to boost their stock.

But last month, Bourne broke his right hand celebrating a match win. He hit the referee stand with his fists, but it wasn’t padded like he expected. They had to forfeit out of the five-star event. Bourne is playing left-handed this week. They lost their first match 21-13, 21-13 on Thursday.

The Crabbs could become the second set of brothers or sisters to play on different beach volleyball teams at an Olympics, according to Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen. German twins Christoph and Markus Dieckmann had different partners in 2004.

Two sets of Olympic siblings played together with decent success — the Austrian Schwaiger sisters and the Swiss Laciga brothers, the latter known for not talking to each other during a decade-long run.

“Because every time one made a suggestion to the other, they’d imploded, they figured it was best not to say anything,” Misty May-Treanor wrote in her book.

Taylor and Trevor said they have been on good terms for the last year and a half, once things cooled over.

“Our relationship’s better than it’s ever been,” Taylor said. “It’s great for both of our careers and our games that we don’t have that extra baggage and tension and stress from playing with each other.”

And if only one of them can make the Olympic team?

“If it does come down to us two battling it out for that last spot, I’m happy that it’s with them,” Taylor said. “If they do happen to get it, I’ll be proud of them either way. I grew up with Tri, too.”

Gibb, at 44, is in the twilight of his career. Taylor could very well be looking for a new partner after Tokyo. Both brothers said they are open to partnering up again. It would certainly make it easier on mom flying from Hawaii to watch their matches.

“I’m just hoping there’s still a day where they can get back together,” Paula said.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

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Figure skating Grand Prix: Five things to watch

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World champions Nathan Chen and Alina Zagitova. Former U.S. champions Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and two-time U.S. ice dance champions/world championship medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Quads, quads, quads.

All of these skaters and jumps will be featured in figure skating’s Grand Prix, which runs from this weekend’s Skate America to the Grand Prix Final Dec. 5-8 at the 2006 Olympic venue of Torino, Italy. January has the U.S. Championships and European Championships, February has the Four Continents Championships, and the season wraps up with the world championships in March.

TV SCHEDULE: How to watch Skate America

Here’s what to watch over the next two months:

1. Dominant dancers due for defeat? 

France’s Papadakis and Cizeron have won four of the last five world championships. The only duo to beat them since 2014, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moirhas officially retired. They’re still in their mid-20s. They posted the four highest scores last season.

The reigning world championship silver medalists, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, had a major breakthrough last season. Until last season, they had never won the Russian championships, never skated in a Grand Prix Final, never finished higher than fourth in the European championships and never finished higher than ninth in the world championships. They still haven’t won a medal in the European championships or won a Grand Prix event. Were their second-place finishes in the world championships and Grand Prix Final a fluke or a sign that they’re ready to challenge for the top?

The top U.S. contenders, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue, train in Montreal with Papadakis and Cizeron, so they know what it takes to get to the top. Hubbell and Donohue posted the highest scores after the French champions and Russian runners-up last year to take their second straight world championship medal and a win at the Grand Prix Final ahead of Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Chock and Bates earned world championship medals in the middle of the decade and finished sixth last year as Chock returned from a long injury layoff.

Oddsmakers would surely favor Papadakis and Cizeron in every competition, but will the underdogs have their day?

The GP schedule for the top dancers and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Hubbell/Donohue, Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, Caroline Green/Michael Parsons
  • Skate Canada: Hubbell/Donohue, Green/Parsons, Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
  • Internationaux de France: Papadakis/Cizeron, Chock/Bates
  • Cup of China: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
  • Rostelecom Cup: Sinitsina/Katsalapov
  • NHK Trophy: Papadakis/Cizeron, Carreira/Ponomarenko, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

2. Can Vincent Zhou topple Chen and Hanyu?

The 2017 world junior champion has steadily and rapidly climbed the ranks since moving to senior level, taking sixth in the 2018 Olympics and third in the 2019 Four Continents before laying down two stunners, taking third in the world championships and posting a score of 299.01 in the World Team Trophy, a mark bested only by Chen and Hanyu.

This season, after spending his youth in Colorado and California, he’ll go across the country to start college at Brown.

Chen and Hanyu have been over the 300-point mark, and Japan’s Shoma Uno is consistently over 275 — the only skater other than Chen, Hanyu and Zhou to beat that standard last season. (Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championship runner-up, picked a bad time to fall just under 275 — the world championships, where he finished fourth behind the other three high scorers.)

The GP schedule for the top men’s skaters and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Chen, Jason Brown, Alexei Krasnozhon
  • Skate Canada: Hanyu, Camden Pulkinen
  • Internationaux de France: Uno, Chen, Tomoki Hiwatashi
  • Cup of China: Pulkinen, Zhou
  • Rostelecom Cup: Uno, Zhou, Krasnozhon
  • NHK Trophy: Hanyu, Brown, Hiwatashi

MORE: Zhou balances Brown University with overseas assignments

3. Can the Tampa-trained pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès follow up their big year?

James has taken a long and winding road to the top of the pairs world. She was born in Canada, then lived in Bermuda and Virginia before competing as a singles skater for Britain. When she moved to pairs, she also switched to France to partner first with Yannick Bonheur and then Ciprès.

For several years, the pair won the French championship but not much else. In the 2017-18 season, they earned a couple of Grand Prix medals and placed fifth in the Olympics before claiming their biggest international prize to date, a bronze medal in the world championships.

Last year, the pair went on a hot streak. They won Skate Canada. They won the Internationaux de France. They won the Grand Prix Final. They won the European championship. Finally, their streak ended at a bad time, and they took fifth in the world championships.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world championship last season after missing the GP season because of Han’s foot injury. Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second in the world championships.

U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skated in the U.S. Classic last month and posted a higher score than any of their compatriots last year. The previous champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, were seventh last year. The last two U.S. champions — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — also are continuing to compete this year.

The GP schedule for the top pairs and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
  • Skate Canada: Tarasova/Morozov, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim, Calalang/Johnson
  • Internationaux de France: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier
  • Cup of China: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea
  • Rostelecom Cup: Tarasova/Morozov, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
  • NHK Trophy: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

4. How many more young quad-jumping Russians can women’s skating handle? 

Zagitova is the defending world champion, and she isn’t even the Russian with the biggest buzz heading into the new season.

Back-to-back world junior champion Alexandra Trusova is the first woman to land a quadruple Lutz in competition. She’s also the first to land a quad toeloop. She landed two quads in one program at the 2018 world juniors, and she has done three in an unofficial skate this fall. She’s only 15. Her free skate this season includes music from “Game of Thrones.”

Anna Shcherbakova, also 15, has landed a quadruple Lutz and was second in last year’s world juniors, and she upset Trusova and Zagitova to win the Russian championship.

Trusova and Shcherbakova both lost in last year’s junior Grand Prix Final to yet another Russian, Alena Kostornaia, who’s 16 now and has the good taste to skate to the Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” in her free skate.

Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova will make their senior-level Grand Prix debuts this season. Trusova already has competed this year and posted the highest score recorded under the new scoring system, just ahead of prior marks from Zagitova and Kostornaia.

5. Can the U.S. women put it together this year? 

Chen and Zhou give the U.S. men two legitimate medal threats in any competition, and the U.S. ice dance machine continues to spin forth contenders. But women’s skating has been in a long dry spell since the era of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen ended. Ashley Wagner, the last U.S. woman on the podium in a major event, has retired.

Today, 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown she’s capable of big numbers, but cracking the top five has been difficult.

The reigning U.S. champion, Alysa Liu, is age eligible for only the Junior Grand Prix series. She’s 14, and she has already posted a score higher than any U.S. woman other than Tennell posted last year.

The good news for the U.S. women is the return of 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen after an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. Like Zhou, she’s heading to an Ivy League school, enrolling at Cornell.

Two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell and the ever-entertaining Starr Andrews also have two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Ting Cui, the bronze medalist after Trusova and Shcherbakova in the 2019 world junior championships, withdrew from her Grand Prix events with an ankle injury.

The GP schedule for the top women and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Shcherbakova, Chen, Tennell, Amber Glenn
  • Skate Canada: Trusova, Tennell
  • Internationaux de France: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Andrews, Bell
  • Cup of China: Shcherbakova
  • Rostelecom Cup: Trusova, Bell
  • NHK Trophy: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Chen, Andrews, Megan Wessenberg

MORE: Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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