Kelly Cheng, Betsi Flint earn big win for U.S. beach volleyball as Olympic qualifying nears

Kelly Cheng, Betsi Flint

Olympian Kelly Cheng (née Claes) and new partner Betsi Flint won a top-level international beach volleyball tournament in Hamburg last week, the biggest title for an American pair since the Tokyo Olympics.

Cheng and Flint won the World Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 event in Hamburg, Germany. Elite 16 events debuted this year. They have smaller fields than other international events, limited to 16 teams based on world ranking points, and are similar in prestige to the previous Grand Slams and Majors.

Cheng and Flint won all six matches in Hamburg, including victories over Brazilians Talita and Rebecca and Germans Karla Borger and Julia Sude, all Olympians.

The world’s top teams from recent seasons — Olympic gold medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman of the U.S., Olympic silver medalists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar of Australia, 2022 World champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil and 2019 World champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada — were not entered in Hamburg.

Qualifying for 2024 Olympic beach volleyball starts Jan. 1. It is similar to past Olympics, with no more than two teams per gender per nation able to qualify.

Last year, Cheng and then-partner Sarah Sponcil rallied to take the second and last U.S. women’s Olympic spot from legend Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat. Cheng and Sponcil were eliminated in the round of 16 in Tokyo, then ended their partnership.

Walsh Jennings, who turned 44 on Monday, is expected to decide on a possible 2024 Olympic run later this year. Walsh Jennings said in April that she hoped to play with 2000 Olympic indoor teammate Logan Tom.

Ross and Klineman have not played together this year after Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever

Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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