AVP Champions Cup marks beach volleyball’s socially distanced return

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A condensed AVP beach volleyball season begins this weekend. Familiarity will be evident, from the U.S.’ top teams to a DJ. So will health measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“When you come on site, you’ll definitely be aware that safety and making sure that everyone’s following the protocol is front and center,” AVP Chief Operating Officer Al Lau said this week.

The AVP Champions Cup is a three-legged event. Tournaments are played over the next three weekends on sand imported to the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot. It was easier than securing beach space. It replaces the normal AVP season that would have run from June to October across the country.

The tour is limiting the number of people on site due to area regulations. No fans. Safety officers will ensure everyone — from players to officials to crew — have appropriate wristbands to move from one zone to another, keeping each group separated.

During play, balls will be regularly sanitized by staff members and placed on a stand for players to take. Players have been told to modify on-court celebrations, such as high-fiving or hugs. Social distancing will extend to player boxes during timeouts, keeping athletes six feet apart. When they’re not playing or in a holding area, they must wear masks.

“The AVP has created a ‘contact-less’ competition that will allow athletes to compete without having contact with anyone other than those they are matched against,” according to a press release.

All players underwent at least one coronavirus test each of the last two weeks among hundreds of weekly tests overall for those on site, according to the AVP. There have been no positives among players so far.

Players will continue to be tested the next two Mondays. If a player tests positive with symptoms, they can’t play and can be replaced by an alternate from a reserve list who has also been tested. If a player tests positive without symptoms, they can take another test in case of a potential false positive.

Every time a player arrives on site, he or she undergoes a temperature check. If the temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher in two checks over 20 minutes, the player gets evaluated by a doctor and takes a coronavirus test. He or she can’t play until having a negative test and a doctor’s note.

Lau said Tuesday that the three-weekend event with Friday qualifying and eight main-draw teams per gender was “good to go” after conversations with city officials amid the recent surge in cases in California.

“Since we’re open air, I think that’s to our advantage,” Lau said. “I think everyone’s been appreciative, and they can tell how serious we’ve taken the procedure and protocols.”

NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app air coverage Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET with a men’s match and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. with the women’s final. Nearly all of the teams vying for U.S. Olympic spots next year are in the field, led by world silver medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman.

“It would suck to go this whole year without playing in anything that we love,” Tri Bourne, who with Trevor Crabb makes up the U.S.’ second-ranked men’s team, said on Sandcast, a podcast that he co-hosts with Travis Mewhirter. “This will fill that void for us.

“It had to have been really difficult to pull something off during this time. … I’m just grateful they’re putting something on.”

The sentiment was shared by Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, who are third in U.S. Olympic women’s qualifying for two spots. In March, Claes and Sponcil were packed and ready to leave for an LAX flight to Australia to start their season when they learned that international volleyball was shut down.

Claes and Sponcil recently found California beaches to practice with other teams, sometimes having to bring their own net. They worked on avoiding the customary post-match handshakes with opponents.

Without fans, “It’s kind of going to feel like practice” at the AVP Champions Cup, Sponcil said.

There will still be announcers, and even longtime AVP DJ Jeremy Roueche.

“I don’t think it’s going to be like anything I’ve experienced before,” said Roueche, who has been with the AVP since 2003. “As a DJ, my job is to read the crowd and make sure I’m kind of keeping them engaged. Now, with no crowd, that’s going to be a little different for me.”

Roueche, who works for the Los Angeles Lakers in the AVP offseason, noted that his peers in the NBA bubble in Florida have it quite a bit different. The NBA brought in four music directors to handle all of their games.

“They could potentially have to play music as the home team DJ for all 22 teams,” Roueche said.

Roueche will do his best to read the highs and lows of the fan-less matches the next three weekends, knowing his work will still impact players and commentators.

“After doing it for so long, I feel that there aren’t really situations I’m not prepared for, but this is something different,” he said. “What’s the energy going to be like? Sometimes, silence can be deafening. Sometimes, music can also be too much.”

Unlike the NBA, the players are not in a bubble. It’s up to them to adhere to strict safety measures, or else their entire season may be lost.

“Everything [risky] you’re going to do, you’re making sure there’s a chance that your partner or your coach are going to get it as well,” Bourne said. “If you do put yourself out there to get it, then you’re going to throw the tournament away, your three chances to play.”

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Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time


Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

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Kaillie Humphries begins trek to 2026 Winter Olympics with monobob World Cup win

Kaillie Humphries

Kaillie Humphries is off to a strong start to a four-year cycle that she hopes ends with her breaking the record as the oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

Humphries, the women’s record holder with three Olympic bobsled titles, earned her first World Cup victory since February’s Winter Games, taking a monobob in Park City, Utah, on Friday.

Humphries, the first Olympic monobob champion, prevailed by .31 of a second over German Lisa Buckwitz combining times from two runs at the 2002 Olympic track.

Humphries has said since February’s Olympics that she planned to take time off in this four-year cycle to start a family, then return in time for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Games. Humphries, who can become the first female Olympic bobsledder in her 40s, shared her experiences with IVF in the offseason on her social media.

“We’ve pushed pause so that I could go and compete this season, maintain my world ranking to be able to still work towards my 2026 goals, and we’ll go back in March to do the implantation of the embryos that we did retrieve,” she said, according to TeamUSA.org.

The next Games come 20 years after her first Olympic experience in Italy, which was a sad one. Humphries, then a bobsled push athlete, was part of the Canadian delegation at the 2006 Torino Games, marched at the Opening Ceremony and had her parents flown in to cheer her on.

But four days before the competition, Humphries learned she was not chosen for either of the two Canadian push athlete spots. She vowed on the flight home to put her future Olympic destiny in her own hands by becoming a driver.

She has since become the greatest female driver in history — Olympic golds in 2010, 2014 and 2022, plus five world championships.

Her longtime rival, five-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, plans to return to competition from her second childbirth later in this Olympic cycle and can also break the record of oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

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