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April Ross, Alix Klineman are first U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifiers

April Ross, Alix Klineman

So dominant, April Ross and Alix Klineman mathematically clinched a spot in the Tokyo Olympics with five major beach volleyball tournaments left before the deadline.

Ross, a silver and bronze medalist, and Klineman, an Olympic rookie, secured one of the two U.S. women’s team spots in Tokyo earlier this month -- winning a tournament in Doha during which the rest of the early 2021 schedule was announced, adding clarity to the Olympic qualifying picture.

The international volleyball federation (FIVB) confirmed Friday that there are currently no plans to add additional major tournaments before the June Olympic qualifying cutoff. Even if plans change and an additional major tournament is added, Ross and Klineman have enough of a cushion that they would still be mathematically secure.

MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

Ross and Klineman are the favorites this summer, looking to become the second U.S. women’s duo to win an Olympic beach volleyball title. Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor did so in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

After May-Treanor retired, Ross and Walsh Jennings took bronze in 2016 and split in 2017. In 2018, Ross began playing tournaments with Klineman, taking a chance on the 6-foot-5, former Stanford indoor star who had never played an international beach event.

“It was the safe choice or the choice I thought was challenging but had the most potential,” Ross said in announcing the partnership more than three years ago. “She could keep playing indoor [professionally in Europe or Brazil] and keep making a good amount of money. She’s out here on the beach because she wants to go to the Olympics, and she has something to prove.”

Ross and Klineman won their first tournament together. In 2019, the following year, they were second at the world championships.

They are 18-0 between the domestic AVP and FIVB World Tour since last summer, including three match wins over world champions Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan of Canada.

Ross is the second American to qualify for Olympic beach volleyball tournaments with three different partners after Holly McPeak. Ross, 38, and Klineman, 31, will be joined in Tokyo by one other U.S. women’s pair.

Walsh Jennings, 42, and her new partner, Rio Olympian Brooke Sweat, lead the standings for the final spot, which could be up for grabs into June before the Olympic qualifying deadline. Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil and Kelley Kolinske and Emily Stockman also have a chance.

The picture could become clear next month, when back-to-back-to-back tournaments are held in Cancun, Mexico. There will be two more significant qualifying events after that.

U.S. Olympic men’s qualifying remains a three-team fight for two spots among 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

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