U.S. women win Volleyball Nations League, continue dominance in run-up to Olympics

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The U.S. women’s volleyball team won the FIVB Volleyball Nations League — which has become a familiar sentence — and heads to this summer’s Olympics as the gold-medal favorite.

The world No. 1-ranked U.S. has never won Olympic women’s volleyball gold in its 11 attempts and will travel to Tokyo for the July 25-Aug. 8 tournament eager to change that after taking down world No. 2 Brazil, 3-1, in Friday’s VNL final.

Coached by volleyball legend Karch Kiraly, the U.S. team playing in the final is the same as the 12-player Olympic team that was named earlier this month, led by two-time Olympic medalists Jordan Larson and Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson, plus 2016 bronze medalists Kim Hill and Kelsey Robinson.

The final started out with Brazil winning the first set, 28-26, but the Americans came back to win three straight, 25-23, 25-23, 25-21.

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, the 2018 VNL MVP, was the leading scorer with 22 points. She was again named league MVP.

Brazil’s Gabriela “Gabi” Braga Guimaraes, who was on four winning World Grand Prix teams leading into the 2016 Olympics, had 18. Teammate Ana Carolina da Silva was the top blocker, taking eight points on her 22 attempts.

The U.S. had three aces to Brazil’s zero, and one less error.

Brazil still holds a lead in its all-time match record against the U.S., 32-29, which includes the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medals.

The FIVB launched the VNL in 2018, replacing the longstanding World Grand Prix for the women and World League on the men’s side, and the U.S. women have won all three editions of the annual tournament held to date.

Featuring the top 16 teams in the world, the VNL typically sees four, four-team pools play in different cities around the globe each week, followed by a final round.

As a precaution, the 2021 VNL was held entirely in Remini, Italy, from May 25-June 25, in a bubble-like atmosphere with no fans.

The U.S. won the inaugural title, 3-2, over Turkey in 2018. The 2019 final saw Brazil finish runner-up as the American women again won 3-2. The 2020 edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After going 19 months without national-team play, nothing was guaranteed as the U.S. squad entered this season.

But the Americans picked up right where they left off and cruised to the final round, going 14-1 in pool play; the sole loss was to reigning Olympic champion and current No. 3 China in the final match last Sunday.

The U.S. then swept No. 4 Turkey in a 3-0 rout in Thursday’s semifinal to meet Brazil in the final.

A $1 million prize comes with the victory.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing


Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin

Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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