AVP beach volleyball tour sets Champions Cup Series as sub for regular season

April Ross
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With her usual practice sites closed down, two-time Olympic medalist April Ross managed to build her own beach volleyball court with supplies she picked up at Home Depot.

What’s proven to be a more difficult adjustment to the coronavirus pandemic: Remembering not to high-five her partner Alix Klineman during their workouts.

“Alix and I are big huggers, so taking that out was hard. And then to not even high-five after stuff is even harder,” Ross said in a telephone interview after their workout Wednesday.

“Alix and I take the pandemic very seriously. We wear masks everywhere except when we’re on the court,” she said. “It’s almost impossible not to (high-five). So we just try to make sure outside of the court we are making sure to being very safe.”

A silver medalist in London in 2012 who picked up a bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Ross was aiming to return to Tokyo this summer with her third partner in as many Olympiads. The coronavirus not only postponed the Summer Games for a year, but it canceled many of the domestic and international tour events the players need to earn money.

The top U.S. tour, the AVP, announced Wednesday that it was replacing the suspended regular season with a three-week event in Long Beach, California. The AVP Champions Cup Series will take place on successive weekends from July 18 to Aug. 2 with a total prize pool of $700,000.

No fans will be in attendance, but all matches will be streamed on Amazon Prime, and some will be broadcast by NBC Sports.

“With the restrictions and regulations in place, we were forced to suspend all fan-attended events and refocus on creating the best possible scenario to bring fans the sport they love so much and provide a meaningful way for our athletes to compete,” tour owner Donald Sun said. “The AVP Champions Cup Series allows us to keep our footprint small, regulate safety protocols and still provide top-flight beach volleyball competition for fans to watch.”

The courts will be set up on sand imported to a parking lot, instead of the actual beach, so they can remain in place for all three weeks; this will require fewer workers, and lessen the chance of spreading the coronavirus. Without fans, the tournament will technically be more like a TV production than a sporting event.

Staff and players will be tested for COVID-19, and masked when they aren’t playing.

“This was the year, it was supposed to be so big with the Olympics and the whole AVP season,” Ross said. “Now that we don’t have the Olympics and our international season has been canceled, I think it’s so amazing the AVP has figured out a way to get us on NBC and Amazon Prime and hold these events.”

With its beach party backdrop and a DJ to geek up the crowd, beach volleyball is usually one of the liveliest sports around — especially at the Olympics, where it repeatedly ranks as one of the most-viewed sports of the Summer Games. Ross said it will be an adjustment to playing without fans, but she’s excited to be playing before major U.S. sports like baseball, hockey and basketball have returned.

“The energy, we’re going to figure it out,” she said. “Everybody is so excited to watch live sports at this time. … To have a stage where maybe we can reach a wider audience, it’s an opportunity to showcase how exciting beach volleyball is. Hopefully, we get a bunch more beach volleyball fans for life, for coming back and being one of the first sports back.”

Ross, 37, said the last three months have been one of the longest periods without playing volleyball of her life. She stayed in shape with some workout equipment she was allowed to take home and set up in her garage when the USOPC/USA Volleyball training center closed.

Ross and Klineman checked in at least once a week on Zoom — and often more — watching videos or consulting with their coach and sports psychologist. When the time came to return to the beach, Ross had to set up the nets herself.

“Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I’m really impressed with how it turned out,” she said.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

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Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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