Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, once U.S. beach volleyball’s future, reunite after 4 years apart

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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It is about that time in the Olympic cycle for beach volleyball players to start forming long-term partnerships with eyes on the Paris Games.

The biggest early development in the U.S. is the reuniting of Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, who at the start of the Tokyo Olympic cycle were the next big thing in American beach volleyball.

Cheng and Hughes, both now 27, are entered together in an international tournament in Australia on Thanksgiving weekend. It would be their first tournament as a team since March 2018.

Their second act began with a recent call from Cheng to Hughes.

“We came together and had a really great conversation,” Hughes said in a phone interview with both players on Monday. “I think Kelly and I both had pull towards each other, and kind of knew that it was just the right time again. And so it was a mutual decision of like, yes, we’re getting together, and we’re just really excited.”

Cheng (née Claes) and Hughes won NCAA beach volleyball titles with USC in 2016 and 2017. In between, they were the only pair to take a set off Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross in AVP play leading up to the Rio Games.

Their bond was so strong that Hughes turned down Walsh Jennings’ proposal to partner up in 2017 before Tokyo Olympic qualifying began.

But in 2018, Hughes did pair with Summer Ross for a Tokyo Olympic run (which ended after Ross suffered a 2019 back injury). Cheng then teamed with Sarah Sponcil, caught fire to take the last U.S. Olympic spot over Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat and lost in the round of 16 at their first Games.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Sponcil split after last season. Cheng played all 14 of her domestic and international events this year with Betsi Flint, taking first and third in their two most recent international starts.

Hughes, after having four different partners in 2021, played exclusively with Kelley Kolinske in 2022. Their highlights: this viral point, plus winning August’s Manhattan Beach Open, the most prestigious domestic event, by beating Cheng and Flint in the final.

“We really respected our partners a lot and have nothing bad to say,” Hughes said.

They’ve only had a few practices together but agreed their chemistry already returned. Their coach is Cheng’s husband, Jordan, who also coached Cheng and Sponcil.

“For sure, it feels different than college,” Cheng said. “We’re all grown. I think we both came into our own athletes, separately.”

Cheng and Hughes instantly become contenders for one of up to two U.S. Olympic beach volleyball team spots in Paris. Tokyo gold medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman have not played together this year, with Klineman sidelined since January shoulder surgery.

Walsh Jennings, a 44-year-old who gets inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame this week, is expected to decide on a possible 2024 Olympic run soon, if she has not already. Walsh Jennings said in April that she hoped to play with 2000 Olympic indoor teammate Logan Tom.

The Olympic qualifying window begins in January and runs to June 2024.

“We want a gold medal in Paris,” said Cheng, who noted she and Hughes have conversed over the book, “The Gap and The Gain: The High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success.” “So we’re kind of working backwards [from that]. In that regard, in our training, what are our strengths and our weaknesses? How can we kind of bring other things? How can we do that repeatedly well? Because I think the top teams in the world are consistent.”

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde sweeps Beaver Creek World Cup races

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Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde held off Swiss Marco Odermatt for a second consecutive day to sweep World Cup races in Beaver Creek, Colorado, this weekend.

Kilde won Sunday’s super-G by two tenths of a second over Odermatt, one day after edging Odermatt by six hundredths. France’s Alexis Pinturault took third as the podium was made up of the last three men to win the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

This season’s overall figures to be a two-man battle between Kilde, the 2019-20 champion, and Odermatt, the reigning champion, and could come down to March’s World Cup Finals. They’ve combined to win the first five of 38 scheduled races.

The top American Sunday was River Radamus, who finished an impressive 16th given his start number was 57. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the Olympic super-G silver medalist, and Travis Ganong, who was third in Beaver Creek last year, both skied out.

The men’s World Cup heads next weekend to Val d’Isere, France, for a giant slalom and slalom.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

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Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin, Marco Odermatt
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NBC Sports and Peacock combine to air live coverage of the 2022-23 Alpine skiing season, including races on the World Cup, which starts this weekend.

Coverage begins with the traditional season-opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria, this Saturday and Sunday, streaming live on Peacock.

The first of four stops in the U.S. — the most in 26 years — is Thanksgiving weekend with a women’s giant slalom and slalom in Killington, Vermont. The men’s tour visits Beaver Creek, Colorado the following week, as well as Palisades Tahoe, California, and Aspen, Colorado after worlds in Courchevel and Meribel, France.

NBC Sports platforms will broadcast all four U.S. stops in the Alpine World Cup season, plus four more World Cups in other ski and snowboard disciplines. All Alpine World Cups in Austria will stream live on Peacock.

Mikaela Shiffrin, who last year won her fourth World Cup overall title, is the headliner. Shiffrin, who has 74 career World Cup race victories, will try to close the gap on the only Alpine skiers with more: Lindsey Vonn (82) and Ingemar Stenmark (86). Shiffrin won an average of five times per season the last three years and is hopeful of racing more often this season.

On the men’s side, 25-year-old Swiss Marco Odermatt returns after becoming the youngest man to win the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, since Marcel Hirscher won the second of his record eight in a row in 2013.

2022-23 Alpine Skiing World Cup Broadcast Schedule
Schedule will be added to as the season progresses. All NBC Sports TV coverage also streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Date Coverage Network/Platform Time (ET)
Sat., Oct. 22 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Sun., Oct. 23 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Soelden Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden Peacock 7 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 12 Women’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 6 a.m.
Women’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 12 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 13 Men’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 10 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 19 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 20 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Nov. 25 Men’s DH — Lake Louise (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 26 Women’s GS (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 27 Women’s SL (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:15 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 2 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 3 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sun., Dec. 4 Women’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 1 p.m.
Men’s SG — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sat., Dec. 10 Men’s GS (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 11 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Sestiere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.

*Delayed broadcast.

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