Kerri Walsh Jennings closer to 6th Olympics, but qualifying may come down to finale

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is in position to reach a sixth Olympics at age 42, but it will likely come down to the last qualifying tournament.

In back-to-back-to-back events in Cancun, Mexico, Walsh Jennings and new partner Brooke Sweat retained a lead in the race for the second and final U.S. Olympic women’s beach volleyball spot.

Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil cut into the advantage, from 240 points to 160 points (160 points is the equivalent of winning two matches in an event’s knockout rounds). The younger Americans would have at least tied Walsh Jennings and Sweat if they didn’t lose quarterfinals each of the last two weekends.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat didn’t get past the round of 16 in any of the three tournaments, which meant they didn’t add any points in Olympic qualifying.

Qualifying, which began in 2018, is more than 90 percent finished. Two events remain — in Sochi, Russia, and Ostrava, Czech Republic, in the last week of May and first week of June.

A team’s 12 best results count in qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who have played 23 events, and Claes and Sponcil, who have played 19, can only add to their point totals by reaching the semifinals in the last two events.

The onus is on Claes and Sponcil, who are trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic beach volleyball team in history. They must either make one final or finish fourth in one event and third in the other to overtake Walsh Jennings and Sweat, assuming the veterans don’t add to their point total.

Claes and Sponcil last made the semifinals of an international tournament in July 2019, 11 events ago.

Walsh Jennings can tie the U.S. female record of six Olympic appearances shared by fencer Jan York-Romary (1948-68) and shooter Kim Rhode (1996-2016, failed to qualify for Tokyo), according to Olympedia.org. Venus Williams is also going for a sixth Olympics in tennis.

April Ross and Alix Klineman previously clinched the first U.S. Olympic women’s spot. They finished third in each of the last two Cancun events, confirming their Olympic medal favorite status. Brazilians Ágatha and Duda performed best over the events with a first, a second and a third.

On the men’s side, 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena had the best performance of the American teams in Cancun. They finished third in the last event, drawing even with 45-year-old Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb atop U.S. men’s qualifying.

Gibb is in line to shatter the record for oldest Olympic beach volleyball player.

Those two teams own a 440-point lead over the only other Americans in the qualifying race — Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Taylor’s older brother. Bourne and Crabb must reach at least the quarterfinals in Sochi to remain in Olympic contention, and have to finish no worse than third in at least one of the two remaining events. They have one finish of third or better internationally in the last two years.

Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sørum, the world’s top-ranked team, won the first two Cancun events. Qatar’s Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan made all three finals to cement themselves as Olympic medal contenders.

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Kerri Walsh Jennings closer to 6th Olympics, but qualifying may come down to finale originally appeared on NBCSports.com