April Ross, Alix Klineman win AVP beach volleyball’s socially distanced return

April Ross, Alix Klineman
Robert Beck/AVP
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Olympic medal favorites April Ross and Alix Klineman won the first AVP beach volleyball tournament since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, taking the AVP Champions Cup in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday and Sunday.

Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, rallied past American Sara Hughes and Canadian Brandie Wilkerson in Sunday’s final 24-22, 21-19. Ross and Klineman were down 20-16 in the first set.

They lifted a trophy during a time they thought they would be heading to Tokyo for the Olympics, which have been postponed to open July 23, 2021.

“It’s not what anybody hoped for, but I think we’re making the most of it,” Klineman told Dain Blanton NBC. “We took the time off to enjoy that time but also to get stronger and healthier. We’re just really grateful that we even have opportunities to play right now.”

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist, and Klineman beat reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada 14-21, 21-15, 15-12 in the semifinals earlier Sunday. Those are the two favorites for Olympic gold in Tokyo next summer.

Ross and Klineman paired in 2017 after Ross and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings split with Walsh Jennings’ decision not to sign an AVP contract. Ross and Klineman won their first international tournament together in 2018. They also racked up eight AVP titles in 13 starts over the last three years.

Ross and Klineman have a comfortable lead in U.S. Olympic qualifying more than halfway through the period. Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Rio Olympian Brooke Sweat, are trying to hold off Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil for the second and final spot. AVP tournaments do not count toward Olympic qualifying.

Earlier Sunday, 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena beat three-time Olympian Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb 21-19, 13-21, 15-13 in the men’s final.

Dalhausser and Lucena, Gibb and Crabb and Tri Bourne and Crabb’s older brother, Trevor, will battle next year for two U.S. Olympic men’s spots. Dalhausser and Lucena rank third more than halfway through qualifying, but they still have one more tournament to count, while the other teams can only count a result in place of a worse previous result.

Dalhausser and Lucena, both 40, would both break the record of oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, according to Olympedia.org. As would the 44-year-old Gibb. And Walsh Jennings, 41.

The AVP Champions Cup is a three-weekend series of three tournaments replacing the normal AVP season. Every tournament takes place in the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

Every player competing began undergoing weekly coronavirus tests three weeks ago. No players tested positive as of Thursday, the day before play began with qualifying. Each player also gets their temperature taken upon arrival at the tournament site.

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MORE: Claes, Sponcil bid to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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