Eight Olympic medalists highlight U.S. men’s volleyball team for Tokyo

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The 12 players who will seek the United States’ first consecutive Olympic men’s volleyball medals in nearly three decades were named on Monday.

The squad is led by opposite/outside hitter Matt Anderson and middle blocker David Smith, who will compete at their third Olympic Games. At 36, Smith is the oldest member of the team.

Anderson, whose first child – son Jamie – was born last year, has been the U.S. men’s leading scorer every season for the past decade. The 34-year-old has also racked up several international accolades including MVP of the 2019 Volleyball Nations League and best opposite at the 2018 VNL and 2018 World Championship.

Unlike the U.S. women’s team, which was named last week and included eight first-time Olympians, the men’s is more seasoned with eight returning Olympians.

In addition to Anderson and Smith, the following six athletes return from the team that earned bronze in Rio five years ago: setters Micah Christenson and Kawika Shoji, middle blocker Max Holt, outside hitters Thomas Jaeschke and Taylor Sander, and libero Erik Shoji (Kawika’s brother).

Making their Olympic debut in Tokyo next month are opposite Kyle Ensing, outside hitters T.J. DeFalco and Garrett Muagututia, and middle blocker Mitch Stahl. DeFalco, the youngest of the squad at 24, competed in beach volleyball at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games before joining the indoor national team the following year.

2016 Olympic bronze medalist Aaron Russell and Ben Patch, the team’s leading scorer in 2019 Volleyball Nations League play, were named alternates, along with Jeff Jendryk, Brenden Sander (Taylor’s brother), Josh Tuaniga, Taylor Averill, Dustin Watten and Kyle Russell.

“We had some really difficult decisions to make,” head coach John Speraw said. “Team USA over the last four or five years has become deeper. The discussions about whom to take on this team involved the performances during VNL as well as what these players bring as teammates and competitors.”

Speraw led the team to the bronze medal in 2016. He will be joined in Tokyo by assistant coaches Brian Thornton, a 2012 Olympian, Matt Fuerbringer, a former beach player, and Mike Wall, who with Fuerbringer also held the role in Rio.

The last time the U.S. men won back-to-back Olympic medals was when they claimed two golds and a bronze from 1984 to 1992.

They continued a medal-winning trajectory after Rio, collecting bronze medals at the 2018 World Championship, 2018 VNL and 2019 World Cup, plus the silver at the 2019 VNL.

Returning to play this year following the pandemic, however, has led to a tumultuous season.

Still ranked third in the world behind Brazil and Poland, the U.S. is currently 10th in the VNL standings with a 4-5 record. Six matches remain before the Final.

Anderson returned to national team play on June 4 for the first time in 21 months.

The U.S. men begin Olympic play on July 24, a day after the Opening Ceremony, with their first Pool B game against world No. 4 France.

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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell

At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

Francesco Friedrich

A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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