Brooke Sweat

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Race for Olympic beach volleyball spots heats up World Tour Finals

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April Ross and Alix Klineman can all but wrap up an Olympic beach volleyball berth this weekend. For Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, a strong finish at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome may prove crucial for Tokyo 2020 hopes.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage Saturday (6 a.m. ET quarterfinals and 12 p.m. semifinals) and same-day finals coverage Sunday at 12 p.m. NBCSN airs coverage Sunday at 11 p.m.

The international season ends with a bucket of Olympic qualifying points available. There will be more tournaments in the fall, winter and spring before the Olympic qualifying cutoff date of June 14, but the majority of next season’s schedule has not been announced.

“It’s so uncertain right now,” NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong said. “You need to lock in points as soon as possible. We don’t know how many events there are going to be next year.”

And there might not be any events with as many Olympic qualifying points at stake as the World Tour Finals, which carries five-star-level status. Only the biennial world championships, which took place earlier this season, had greater ramifications.

A maximum of two U.S. pairs per gender can qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman, her new partner as of two years ago, are ranked No. 1 in the world. With the World Tour Finals, they will reach the requirement of 12 events played to be eligible for the Olympics.

They already have 8,160 Olympic qualifying points, which is 1,280 better than the next-best U.S. team of Walsh Jennings and Sweat.

Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion who split with Ross after their Rio Olympic bronze medals, paired with Sweat about a year ago. They have been up and down but grinded through qualifying matches to reach main draws all season.

They have a 580-point lead for the second and final U.S. Olympic spot over the No. 3 American team of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.

Both pairs have met the 12-tournament requirement, which means each is playing to replace their lowest-scoring result so far. Teams can play as many tournaments as they like in the Olympic qualifying window, but only their 12 best points results count.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat are looking to drop a 480-point score. Claes and Sponcil want to drop a 240-point score, which means they can finish lower than Walsh Jennings and Sweat this weekend and still gain on them in the qualifying standings.

The World Tour Finals winners get 1,200 points, a significant increase over a four-star event (800 points) and a three-star event (600 points).

On the men’s side, three pairs are also in the running for two Olympic spots. The teams include 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and brothers playing with different partners — Taylor Crabb with Jake Gibb and Trevor Crabb with Tri Bourne.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

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Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat eliminated from beach volleyball worlds

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat were eliminated from the world beach volleyball championships in the round of 32 on Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany, hurting their chances of qualifying next June for the Tokyo Olympics.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and her new partner, Rio Olympian Sweat, were swept by formidable Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-18, 21-16 on the first day of elimination rounds.

It’s Walsh Jennings’ worst result in seven career world championships. They went 1-2 in pool play, the lone win a 21-2, 21-2 rout of an inexperienced team from Mauritius.

Walsh Jennings said it was the worst that she and Sweat have played since pairing in October.

“This is the most disappointing event I’ve ever had, and I think Brooke would probably feel the same,” Walsh Jennings told media in Hamburg in audio provided by NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit. “This is a horrific thing to say, but it’s almost a relief it’s over.”

Walsh Jennings and Sweat and Agatha and Duda split matches at the Americans’ last two international events in May and June.

Agatha and former partner Barbara handed Walsh Jennings her only Olympic beach defeat in the Rio semifinals, when Walsh Jennings played with April Ross.

The world championships carry the most points of any tournament in the two-year Olympic qualifying window.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat came to worlds ranked second among Americans in average points, behind Ross and Alix Klineman, and gained no ground in Hamburg.

Both Klineman and Ross and the other top U.S. pair, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross (no relation), won Wednesday matches to reach the round of 16.

The top two U.S. teams in qualifying points come next June are in line to go to Tokyo.

Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old mother of three, is in line to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, should she and Sweat hold off younger U.S. pairs over the next year.

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MORE: Beach Volleyball Worlds TV/Stream Schedule

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Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat author biggest blowout in world champs history

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat broke the record for largest margin of victory at a beach volleyball world championships, drubbing a pair from Mauritius 21-2, 21-2 in pool play on Sunday in Hamburg, Germany.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost Friday’s opener to a Dutch duo, took out the second-lowest-ranked pair in the 48-team field in 21 minutes.

“It’s an honor for us – not to lose 21-2, 21-2 – but to play Kerri, Brooke, [and Australians Mariafe] Artacho and [Taliqua] Clancy and the world-class, big professionals of the sport,” Mauritius’ Maita Cousin said, according to event organizers. “I am an admin manager and work in an office all day and go to training for two hours after. It’s a hobby for me, and I’m excited to be here at this big event and share the experience.”

Routs aren’t that unusual at the world championships because the field is twice the size of the Olympics, which brings more universality.

Walsh Jennings had never won a match by such a margin in nearly two decades and 250 pro tournaments, though she has played one 20-minute match, according to BVBInfo.com.

“They showed up and made us work,” Walsh Jennings, who is a mom like Cousin, said, according to the FIVB. “We had to scramble a few times but I love mothers – or anyone – who is chasing a dream. They showed courage.

“I don’t think they will look at the scoreline, but they should be proud.”

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who paired last fall and are in the mix halfway through Olympic qualifying, play their last pool match Monday against the Aussies.

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MORE: Beach Volleyball Worlds TV/Stream Schedule

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