Olympic Race Update: Where The U.S. Teams Stand in the Road to Tokyo
For the first time in what seems like months, the headliners on the World Tour get a week off. The last time April Ross and Alix Klineman took a week off? Between Four-Stars in Ostrava and Warsaw.
Even then, it’s hardly a true week off. There’s a 10-plus – at the minimum – travel day home, enough time changes to make returning to normalcy after jet lag a several day-long process – and then you’re back at LAX, on another 10-plus – at the minimum – travel day to the next tournament.
It’s enough of a process that Ross and Klineman, who hadn’t been able to take the time to see where they were in the Olympic standings, had no idea where they stood. They had a good idea, though: A silver at World Champs and a gold at the Gstaad Major, supplemented by golds in Itapema and Yangzhou and a silver in Tokyo, is an avalanche of points.
Most, though, are like Ross and Klineman: They genuinely don’t know where they stand. Neither do most fans.
So, on this rare off week, here’s a rundown of the current United States Olympic standings, with the most important remaining events on the FIVB calendar.
Before we begin, however, a few quick notes:
- How the Olympic rankings work: The best 12 finishes from the 2019 and half of the 2020 season — those leading up to Tokyo — are taken into account. So if you play 15 events, you take your best 12 and drop your worst three. This means that the Olympic standings and the FIVB rankings will almost always be different. The FIVB rankings are only based on your best four of the six most recent finishes. So while one team might be leading in the Olympic race, they may be down in the world rankings. Confusing, I know, but what would an Olympic race be without a little added unnecessary Beautiful Mind games?
Onto the rankings.
(1) Tri Bourne, Trevor Crabb
- Finishes: 11
- Points: 5,600
- Notes: Bourne and Crabb might be the biggest surprise in the U.S. After taking more than a year off battling an autoimmune disease, Bourne returned to form almost immediately. He picked up his childhood bud in Crabb, began split-blocking, shifted Crabb over to the right — and the two immediately jumped to the top of the Olympic standings. A fourth at World Champs was an enormous point gain for the Hawai’ians, but they’re almost certain to be surpassed by Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in the coming weeks. Bourne broke his hand at the Vienna Major, and will be ready, at the earliest, for the World Tour Finals in Rome in the beginning of September. They’re still in a good spot, however, as there are only two events left in the 2019 season worth playing — the Moscow Four-Star, which coincides with the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, and Rome — and Dalhausser and Lucena are skipping one, and Bourne and Crabb might be healthy for the second.
(2) Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
- Finishes: 9
- Points: 4,880
- Notes: Dalhausser and Lucena have had an odd year, relative to the dominance that is always expected of any team with Dalhausser. But that’s just the way the World Tour is. The only team truly dominant is Anders Mol and Christian Sorum. And besides, their results aren’t bad at all, when you don’t compare them to previous seasons. Sure, they haven’t made a podium since Doha in March, but they’ve logged four top-10s in their past five events, including a fifth at the points-heavy World Champs, a ninth in Gstaad and a fourth in Vienna. Those might not seem great, but remember: Olympics are decided on points, not medals, and the 420 they took from Vienna is 60 more than the silver from Doha. They’re steadily climbing.
(3) Jake Gibb, Taylor Crabb
- Finishes: 8
- Points: 3,860
- Notes: Weird year for these two. Easily the most dominant team on the AVP Tour this season, with wins in Huntington and Austin, a third in New York and a second in Seattle, they have yet to finish better than ninth on the FIVB in a Four-Star or better. They have a good shot to gain points in Moscow, with only Billy Allen and Stafford Slick making the trip, but with only one Major remaining this year, in Rome, they’ll need a good finish, and a stumble from the top two teams, to pick up major ground. The good news is that they’re only adding finishes, while Bourne and Crabb will soon hit the 12-finish threshold, so they’ll only be gaining ground.
(4) Billy Allen, Stafford Slick
- Finishes: 7
- Points: 2,800
- Notes: These guys are an outside shot, but they have a shot nonetheless. They might only have one top-10 in a Four-Star or above this season, but their one top-10 is a biggie: A ninth at World Champs, where points are given out like candy. That ninth, for example, is worth nearly double that of their recent bronze at the Edmonton Three-Star. So they’re still in the hunt, which is why they’re skipping the Manhattan Beach Open and heading to Moscow instead.
(1) April Ross, Alix Klineman
- Finishes: 11
- Points: 8,160
- Notes: How safe are these two at the moment? Safe enough that they — gasp — took a week off and skipped Espinho, and they’re staying home for Manhattan rather than flying to Moscow for another Four-Star. It would take something Herculean from the rest of the Americans to knock off Ross and Klineman at this point, and they’re only getting better, too. This is as close to a lock as a team can get (knocks on wood).
(2) Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
- Finishes: 14
- Points: 6,540
- Notes: Walsh Jennings and Sweat took a similar route to what Walsh Jennings and Misty May Treanor once did: Front-loading the Olympic schedule. Walsh Jennings and May Treanor used to shore up their Olympic berth almost a year before the actual Olympics, making it a much less stressful leadup to the Games. Her and Sweat haven’t quite shored it up, but they’ve logged their 12 finishes, meaning they can now add new ones and drop the bad ones. It’s an enviable position to be in, especially with nine solid finishes already. It puts the pressure on the teams below them to get basically fifth or better in every tournament, which is no easy task on this tour.
(3) Kelly Claes, Sarah Sponcil
- Finishes: 11
- Points: 5,720
- Notes: Claes deserves an incredible amount of respect for what has been a magnificent run with Sponcil thus far. I’m not sure how many people would have predicted that, a year into the Olympic qualification process, she’d be in third, partnered with a different Sarah. But that’s exactly where she is, with a game that is proving to be keeping speed with the best in the world on a consistent basis. Sponcil, too, is one of the more impressive human beings in the country. After winning two straight national championships with UCLA, she went straight from Gulf Shores onto the World Tour — and now she’s in a good position in the Olympic race. If nothing else, this team is one of the more inspiring in the U.S.
(4) Kelley Larsen, Emily Stockman
- Finishes: 11
- Points: 5,440
- Notes: This might be the streakiest team in the U.S. Olympic race. They’ll take a silver in a Four-Star and win AVP Seattle in an excellent two-week stretch — and then take back-to-back 17ths in the next two weeks. That’s the way it goes on the World Tour sometimes, but especially with these two in particular. They have four 17ths to their name, but also a silver and a big fifth at the Vienna Major. The good news for Stockman and Larsen is that, given their recent stretch of finishes, their FIVB ranking is up, meaning they should be, blessedly, out of country quotas and qualifiers for at least a few events.
(5) Summer Ross, Sara Hughes
- Finishes: 8
- Points: 4,080
- Notes: If a year or so ago you’d have taken a poll, asking beach volleyball fans who would be the top two teams in the Olympic race at this point, the most common, if not unanimous, answer would have been Ross and Klineman and Hughes and Ross. Which is why we play the game. With as much travel as world tour athletes put on their bodies, and with how much competing that they do, adversity is bound to happen, and it did, with Ross pulling out of a few tournaments to heal up a back injury. But they’re really not in as bad a spot as many might think. They have eight finishes, so they only need four more. And if they can have a good tournament in Rome — if they play — and tack on another at the Chetumal Four-Star in November, they’ll be up to 10 with another seven months of Olympic qualification to go. It’s wild that, this late into the Olympic race, there are legitimately five teams in contention.
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