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Americans Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes win beach volleyball world title

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes

Sara Hughes (R) and Kelly Cheng (L) of United States celebrate after winning the final of women’s Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Finals against Eduarda Santos Lisboa and Ana Patricia Silva Ramos of Brazil at Aspire Zone in Doha,Qatar on 29 January 2023. (Photo by Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Americans Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes cemented themselves as Olympic gold-medal contenders by winning the world beach volleyball championships on Sunday.

Cheng and Hughes, mid-2010s USC phenoms who reunited last year after four years apart, dethroned Brazilians Ana Patricia and Duda 21-16, 24-22 in Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Ana Patricia and Duda won last year’s world title, entered this year’s worlds as the top-ranked team and rode a 19-match international win streak into Sunday’s final.

Cheng and Hughes, who entered worlds ranked third, became the first U.S. team to win a world title since 2009 and the third U.S. women’s team overall to do so.

The others were Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings (three-peat from 2003-07) and Jennifer Kessy and April Ross (2009).

Cheng (née Claes) and Hughes won their first four tournaments after reuniting last fall, but entered worlds having not made the semifinals of their three most recent international events.

In the last week, they lost their third and final match of group play, then dropped a set in three of their four knockout round matches en route to the final.

The 28-year-olds go into 2024 looking to become the third U.S. women’s team to win the Olympics after May-Treanor and Walsh (three-peat from 2004 through 2012) and Alix Klineman and Ross in Tokyo.

Klineman, 33, and Ross, 41, will not defend their title together in Paris next year. Klineman recently returned from childbirth with a new partner. Ross has been coaching during her pregnancy and might be done playing internationally.

Earlier Sunday, Americans Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss beat Olympic silver medalists Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy of Australia 15-21, 21-19, 15-8 in the bronze-medal match.

The U.S. won two medals in one global tournament for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, when May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings beat Kessy and Ross in the gold-medal match.

In Sunday’s men’s final, Czechs Ondřej Perušič and David Schweiner beat Swedes David Åhman and Jonatan Hellvig 21-15, 17-21, 15-13.

Before this year, a Czech men’s team had never reached the quarterfinals of an Olympics or worlds.

A U.S. men’s team finished fourth for the third consecutive worlds. Poland’s Michał Bryl and Bartosz Łosiak beat Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb 21-17, 21-18 in the bronze-medal match.

Brunner, 38, and Crabb, 34, passed Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk for second place in the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with eight months left in the race to Paris. A nation can qualify a maximum of two teams per gender to the Olympics.

Andy Benesh and Miles Partain, the top U.S. men’s team, lost in the quarterfinals at worlds.