Beach Volleyball

April Ross
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AVP beach volleyball tour sets Champions Cup Series as sub for regular season

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With her usual practice sites closed down, two-time Olympic medalist April Ross managed to build her own beach volleyball court with supplies she picked up at Home Depot.

What’s proven to be a more difficult adjustment to the coronavirus pandemic: Remembering not to high-five her partner Alix Klineman during their workouts.

“Alix and I are big huggers, so taking that out was hard. And then to not even high-five after stuff is even harder,” Ross said in a telephone interview after their workout Wednesday.

“Alix and I take the pandemic very seriously. We wear masks everywhere except when we’re on the court,” she said. “It’s almost impossible not to (high-five). So we just try to make sure outside of the court we are making sure to being very safe.”

A silver medalist in London in 2012 who picked up a bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Ross was aiming to return to Tokyo this summer with her third partner in as many Olympiads. The coronavirus not only postponed the Summer Games for a year, but it canceled many of the domestic and international tour events the players need to earn money.

The top U.S. tour, the AVP, announced Wednesday that it was replacing the suspended regular season with a three-week event in Long Beach, California. The AVP Champions Cup Series will take place on successive weekends from July 18 to Aug. 2 with a total prize pool of $700,000.

No fans will be in attendance, but all matches will be streamed on Amazon Prime, and some will be broadcast by NBC Sports.

“With the restrictions and regulations in place, we were forced to suspend all fan-attended events and refocus on creating the best possible scenario to bring fans the sport they love so much and provide a meaningful way for our athletes to compete,” tour owner Donald Sun said. “The AVP Champions Cup Series allows us to keep our footprint small, regulate safety protocols and still provide top-flight beach volleyball competition for fans to watch.”

The courts will be set up on sand imported to a parking lot, instead of the actual beach, so they can remain in place for all three weeks; this will require fewer workers, and lessen the chance of spreading the coronavirus. Without fans, the tournament will technically be more like a TV production than a sporting event.

Staff and players will be tested for COVID-19, and masked when they aren’t playing.

“This was the year, it was supposed to be so big with the Olympics and the whole AVP season,” Ross said. “Now that we don’t have the Olympics and our international season has been canceled, I think it’s so amazing the AVP has figured out a way to get us on NBC and Amazon Prime and hold these events.”

With its beach party backdrop and a DJ to geek up the crowd, beach volleyball is usually one of the liveliest sports around — especially at the Olympics, where it repeatedly ranks as one of the most-viewed sports of the Summer Games. Ross said it will be an adjustment to playing without fans, but she’s excited to be playing before major U.S. sports like baseball, hockey and basketball have returned.

“The energy, we’re going to figure it out,” she said. “Everybody is so excited to watch live sports at this time. … To have a stage where maybe we can reach a wider audience, it’s an opportunity to showcase how exciting beach volleyball is. Hopefully, we get a bunch more beach volleyball fans for life, for coming back and being one of the first sports back.”

Ross, 37, said the last three months have been one of the longest periods without playing volleyball of her life. She stayed in shape with some workout equipment she was allowed to take home and set up in her garage when the USOPC/USA Volleyball training center closed.

Ross and Klineman checked in at least once a week on Zoom — and often more — watching videos or consulting with their coach and sports psychologist. When the time came to return to the beach, Ross had to set up the nets herself.

“Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I’m really impressed with how it turned out,” she said.

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Who is Brazil’s greatest Olympian?

Yana Marques
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Brazil’s two major sports are soccer and volleyball (indoor and beach), but no soccer players make this list. It’s because most male soccer players only play one Olympics (Neymar being an exception), and the Brazilian women (who have a legend in Marta) haven’t won an Olympic title. Brazil has others to choose from who earned medals at multiple Olympics … 

Escadinha
Volleyball
Four Olympic Medals

Sergio Santos is known as Serginho or Escadinha, the latter translating to stepladder. The libero shares the record for most Olympic volleyball medals. Escadinha reached the final of every Olympic tournament he played, the last in Rio at age 40. He grew up in a favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. It was thought his national team career was over after the 2012 London Games, but longtime Brazilian coach Bernardinho called him back in 2015 for one more run. Wise move. Escadinha was named tournament MVP, leading Brazil to home gold. After the Olympics, Escadinha’s farewell match with the national team drew 35,000 people.

Fabi/Sheilla
Volleyball
Two Olympic Gold Medals

Brazil’s greatest female Olympian has to be an indoor volleyball player from gold-medal teams in 2008 and 2012. No other Brazilian women own multiple golds. Six women made both of those Olympic volleyball teams. Of those, Fabi and Sheilla had the most acclaim. Fabi was the best libero at the Beijing Games. She later earned best digger and best receiver honors in other major international competitions. Sheilla, an opposite and Brazil’s top scorer at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, rejoined the national team last year after a retirement. Another medal in Tokyo could vault her ahead of Fabi.

Torben Grael
Sailing
Five Olympic Medals

Competed in every Olympics from 1984-2004, making the podium in five of his six appearances. Grael memorably lost gold in 1988 due to a broken mast in the final two-person Star race. His gold medals came in 1996 and 2004, the last one at age 44, both with Marcelo Ferreira. Grael became the first sailor to earn five Olympic medals, a record later tied by Brit Ben Ainslie and countryman Robert Scheidt. Grael and Scheidt were due to face off in Brazil’s Olympic Trials in 2008 before Grael withdrew.

Ricardo/Emanuel
Beach Volleyball
Three Olympic Medals each

The only Olympic men’s beach volleyball team to win multiple medals. Ricardo and Emanuel earned gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008. Each legend also earned a silver medal with a different partner at other Games. Together, they own the international men’s beach volleyball record book. Emanuel grew up so skinny that he didn’t play soccer and had to transition out of indoor volleyball. Even when he started playing professionally on the beach, he was called “Bones.” Ricardo was a converted soccer goalie. Ricardo and Emanuel broke up in the London Olympic cycle because Emanuel wanted to move from Joao Pessoa to live in Rio full-time with his wife.

Robert Scheidt
Sailing
Five Olympic Medals

Extended Brazil’s sailing dominance after Grael bowed out of Olympic competition before the Beijing Games. Scheidt, like Grael, earned medals in five of his six Olympics. Scheidt, like Grael, earned golds in 1996 and 2004 (Laser class, not Star). In Rio, Scheidt placed fourth in a bid to break his tie with Grael and Ainslie for the Olympic sailing medals record. A U.S. Olympic coach once called Scheidt, “the Michael Jordan of sailing.” His world championships record — golds spanning 1995 to 2013 — betters Grael’s. Scheidt is still competing at age 47 — after a reported retirement in 2017.

BEST OLYMPIANS: Canada | China | Germany | Italy | Japan

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Kerri Walsh Jennings connects with beach volleyball players with virtual camps

Kerri Walsh Jennings
AP
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A longtime evangelist for outdoor and active lifestyles, beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings knew the national stay-at-home orders would be especially hard on young athletes and others trying to stay fit.

With her own quest for a sixth Olympics on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, Walsh Jennings held video chats with dozens of volleyball clubs and teams — more than 4,500 people in all. Part pep talks, part skills clinics, the calls convinced her people are struggling to remain active in a world where it’s much easier to just binge on TV.

“There was a consistent theme to every call: ’Kerri, we are so sad. We don’t want to lose what we’ve earned. We want to stay sharp and inspired,” Walsh Jennings said in announcing the creation of “Virtual Summer Camps” for aspiring volleyball players and others just trying to stay active.

“This is hard on everybody. But there’s so many resources out there,” she told The Associated Press. “There’s no excuse to be a slave to your couch. We all have a little bit of space. We can go outside and be free. And we just want to encourage people to do that.”

Through her volleyball and lifestyle platform p1440, Walsh Jennings put together an online program mixing skills, fitness and mindset training. The four-week pilot called “The Fundamentals” sold out in six days with 250 men, women, boys and girls of all ages, volleyball rookies up to semipro level.

“Imagine this: We have a 13-year-old girl who is going through this and she is just devastated that her season was taken away. And she is thriving and she’s sharing her experience,” Walsh Jennings said. “And then we have a 50-year-old man who’s gained 20 pounds in COVID and just loves volleyball, never played before, but wants to get better. He’s lost 15 pounds and he’s engaged with this program, sharing in the safe community that we created.”

Now, p1440 is gearing up for two “ Virtual Summer Camps ” that offer the chance to “Train with an Olympian” — one focused on fundamentals and a more intense version called “Unleashed.” Campers will have access to Walsh Jennings; her husband, beach volleyball pro Casey Jennings; UCLA beach volleyball coach and 2004 Olympian Stein Metzger; and trainer Tommy Knox.

“The materials were put together fast, but the wisdom and the knowledge is literally 30 years of my life,” Walsh Jennings said.

“The fundamental philosophy is ‘doing things right.’ And it’s going to meet you where you are,” she said. “For me, an athlete working to go to my sixth Olympics, win my fourth gold, this is making me better. A 9-year-old who is just getting started in the game, it’s making her better. And everyone in between.”

The camps are virtual. The workouts are real.

Campers will receive videos by email every weekday with their exercises for the day — they can also log onto Walsh Jennings’ p1440 website. Strength training is twice a week, volleyball is four times a week, and mindfulness training is every day. The workouts are self-guided, and should take about two hours.

“There’s a lot of interaction, and we want people to be felt and heard,” Walsh Jennings said. “Even though this is virtual, it’s very engaging and it’s still very connected. And so we don’t want to minimize that part of it.”

Twelve-year-old Phia Neilson said the Fundamentals camp helped her grow as a volleyball player, but it was the journaling that was a highlight. One entry included a drawing of a girl playing volleyball, a quote from actor Will Smith and “3 ways to Optimize”: “Go to bed earlier, start a food log and raise my energy level.”

“I like that I am learning to be more patient with myself, to stay positive and to never give up,” she wrote.

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