Kerri Walsh Jennings

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Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is postponed

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U.S. beach volleyball players Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil learned about five hours before their scheduled flight to Australia that this week’s FIVB World Tour event in Gold Coast, carrying significant Olympic qualifying points, was postponed due to coronavirus concerns. They didn’t board.

Olympians Phil Dalhausser was already in Australia.

“The Coronavirus has officially affected the beach volleyball world,” was posted on the 2008 Olympic gold medalist Dalhausser’s Instagram. “Unfortunately the Australian tourney was suppose to start in a few days and most teams are already here.”

Efforts to reach Dalhausser, who is paired with Nick Lucena, have been unsuccessful, but he posted on Instagram over the weekend that he was touring Sydney.

Claes and Sponcil and Dalhausser and Lucena share this: They are the third-ranked U.S. pairs in women’s and men’s Olympic qualifying. The top two U.S. pairs per gender come a June 15 cutoff qualify for the Tokyo Games, unless the qualification procedures are changed given the coronavirus’ impact. Points are crucial for those teams just off the bubble.

The Gold Coast event was mid-level, given a three-star rating on a scale of one to five. The top two U.S. pairs per gender either didn’t enter the event or withdrew before scheduled flights.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time Olympic champion who is ranked second in Olympic qualifying with Brooke Sweat, posted that they and other U.S. teams decided collectively on Friday to withdrew from the Australia event.

“People had departing flights within hours of our decision,” was posted on Walsh Jennings’ Instagram. “It was extremely hard for all of us because we were each weighing our Olympic dreams & professional livelihood against a global pandemic and National State of Emergency in our home country. No athlete should ever be in that situation.”

Claes and Sponcil and Dalhausser and Lucena, the latter having just played a four-star event in Doha, were still on the entry list on Saturday afternoon. The FIVB said preventative measures had been planned to protect those at the event, but it was ultimately postponed.

“The FIVB and the organizers recognize that there are international travel limitations and other restrictions in different parts of the world that impact the ability of some of the participants to take part in the event,” according to a press release. “The health of athletes, officials and fans is the FIVB’s top priority, and the mutual decision to postpone the event was made in the best interests of all parties.”

Previously, four-star events scheduled this spring in China (two of them) and Mexico had been postponed or canceled. That made the points offered in Australia more valuable for Olympic qualifying, which takes each pair’s top 12 finishes from Sept. 1, 2018 to June 14, 2020 with greater weight given to higher-starred events.

That timeline and process could change.

“The FIVB, working in close collaboration with the IOC, is evaluating how to adapt the Olympic qualification for beach volleyball in order to preserve the technical balance and protect the athletes in light of the recent event postponements,” according to an FIVB statement Monday.

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Ten memorable Summer Olympic gold-medal moments from 2010s

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s this week. Here are 10 Summer Olympic gold-medal moments that defined the decade …

London 2012: Fierce Five puts U.S. back atop women’s gymnastics
Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross became the first U.S. gymnastics team to win an Olympic title outside of a home Games. This group set the tone for what would become a dynasty — the U.S. women have won every Olympic and world team and all-around title since 2011. Douglas went on to capture the all-around in London. Raisman grabbed her all-around medal in Rio, a silver. Wieber kicked it off with the 2011 World all-around crown. Maroney was shockingly relegated to silver in the 2012 Olympic vault final, then repeated as world champion in 2013. Ross would join Simone Biles on world all-around podiums in 2013 and 2014.

London 2012: Michael Phelps breaks career Olympic medals record
Though Phelps broke Mark Spitz‘s single-Games mark by taking eight golds in 2008, he entered the decade in second place on the career Olympic medals list behind 1950s and ’60s Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. Phelps needed three medals in London — what he said would be his final Games — to take the lead with 19 total. He tied and broke the record on the same night with a silver behind Chad le Clos in the 200m butterfly and gold anchoring the 4x200m freestyle relay. Phelps went on to win another nine Olympic medals between London and Rio — with a brief retirement in between — to finish with 28 medals and 23 golds. Latynina, with 18 medals and nine golds, is now a distant second.

London 2012: Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh Jennings three-peat
The greatest team in beach volleyball history took their final bow together at Horse Guards Parade, completing an undefeated run for a third straight Olympics. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings had separate win streaks of 90 and 112 matches in the 2000s but were vulnerable going into London. They had won four of their 17 international events together since May-Treanor unretired in 2011. But they dropped just one set in seven matches at the Olympics, sweeping countrywomen Jen Kessy and April Ross in the final. May-Treanor retired from international play for good, while Walsh Jennings planted the seed of her next partnership at the net after the final. She and Ross paired and earned bronze in Rio.

London 2012: David Rudisha breaks world record in epic 800m final
Maybe the greatest race in history. The Maasai warrior Rudisha was tapped by many to break his own world record in his Olympic debut. He did it, leading from the break and towing six of the seven other finalists to personal bests. Rudisha clocked 1:40.91, becoming the first man to break 1:41. Every runner’s time was the fastest ever for that finishing placement. “It was the performance of the Games, not just of track and field, but of the Games,” said London 2012 chairman Seb Coe, a former 800m world-record holder.

London 2012: David Boudia wins platform on final dive
Boudia, after qualifying last out of 18 divers out of preliminaries, entered the sixth and last final-round dive in a virtual tie with world champion Qiu Bo of China and British favorite Tom Daley. For the biggest dive of his life, Boudia performed the highest-scoring dive of the day — 102.60 points — on a back two-and-a-half somersault with two-and-a-half twists in the pike position. He won by 1.80 points over Qiu, giving the U.S. its first Olympic diving title since Laura Wilkinson in 2000.

Rio 2016: Simone Biles, Aly Raisman go 1-2 in all-around
For Biles, gold was a coronation marking four years of unprecedented excellence. For Raisman, silver was sweet, representing a three-year comeback journey to become an even better gymnast than she was in London (where she missed an all-around medal on a tiebreak). Biles’ margin of victory — 2.1 points — was greater than the previous nine Olympic margins combined. Raisman had a 1.433-point edge over bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina, greater than the margin separating Mustafina from the 10th-place finisher.

Rio 2016: Katie Ledecky completes 4-gold-medal Games with second world record
You can’t ask much more of a swimmer than a personal best. When Ledecky does that, it usually means a world record. She shattered personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles en route to four golds (including the 4x200m free relay) at her second Olympics. The 400m and 800m frees were world records, nearly two seconds faster than the previous marks. Ledecky shed rare tears after the last race, the 800m free, knowing it was her final one under D.C.-area coach Bruce Gemmell before matriculating at Stanford.

Rio 2016: Wayde van Niekerk breaks Michael Johnson’s 400m world record
From way out in lane eight, the South African took down Johnson’s 17-year-old world record in perhaps the most astonishing feat of the Games. Van Niekerk, then coached by a 74-year-old grandmother (Ans Botha), clocked 43.03 seconds. Usain Bolt, watching on a TV in the stadium, covered his mouth in a similar reaction to many at the Maracana. The two sprinters trained together earlier that year. “Bolt told me in Jamaica, ‘You will break the world record,'” van Niekerk said in Rio. “Tonight [Bolt] said, ‘I told you you can do it.'”

Rio 2016: Usain Bolt finishes golden Olympic career
With one last relay leg, the Jamaican bid farewell to the Olympics with a “triple-triple,” gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics (the 2008 relay title would later be stripped for a teammate’s doping). Though Bolt turned a close 4x100m into a runaway on anchor, perhaps the more memorable image of that night came hours later. Some time after midnight, Bolt made his way back onto the track and threw a javelin.

Rio 2016: Neymar wins Brazil’s first Olympic soccer title in shootout
In what he later called the most nervous moment of his life, Neymar calmly netted the decisive shootout attempt in the Olympic final at the Maracana. The opponent: Germany, whose national team trounced Brazil 7-1 two years earlier in the World Cup semifinals, also in Brazil. Neymar dropped to his knees, was mobbed by teammates and then sobbed. Brazil, a five-time World Cup champion, earned its first Olympic soccer title and its most coveted medal of the Rio Games.

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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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