The U.S. Olympic qualifying chase in women’s beach volleyball figures to be among the most dramatic for the Tokyo Games.
Take last week’s Yangzhou Open, the biggest tournament so far in an Olympic qualification window that runs into June 2020.
April Ross, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World silver medalist, and new partner Alix Klineman won the FIVB World Tour event in China, sweeping Brazilians Ana Patricia and Rebecca 21-19, 21-16 in Sunday’s final.
“Almost didnt get into China bc didnt realize visa was in my old passport, heroes helped, figured out a way,” was tweeted from Ross’ account. “We played terribly in pool, enlisted more help, believed. Called on more help to prepare for unknown teams, fought hard, won.”
The other top U.S. team from last season, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, rallied for bronze in Yangzhou, 16-21, 23-21, 15-5 over Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.
Those medal matches came after April Ross and Klineman eliminated triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Kelly Claes in the round of 16. Ross and Walsh Jennings earned bronze together at the Rio Games, then split last year.
Walsh Jennings’ partner for an Olympic run is not Claes but Brooke Sweat, which slightly lessened the impact of the Yangzhou defeat.
Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old mother of three looking to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player, and Sweat will play for the first time in this week’s FIVB World Tour event in Las Vegas, which doubles as a stop on Walsh Jennings’ new p1440 circuit. The event has the same amount of Olympic qualifying points as Yangzhou.
No more than two pairs per gender per nation can qualify for the Olympics, adding results from the next 18 months of international competitions.
That means at least one of Ross/Klineman, Hughes/Ross and Walsh Jennings/Sweat will not make Tokyo.
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