3x Olympic beach champ Walsh Jennings foiled in Tokyo bid

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2016, file photo, United States' Kerri Walsh Jennings awaits a serve against Australia during a women's beach volleyball quarterfinal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The three-time beach volleyball gold medalist was defeated in her bid to reach a sixth Olympics when she and partner Brooke Sweat lost in a qualifying match on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in Ostrava, Czech Republic (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) (Marcio Jose Sanchez, Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

Three-time beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings was defeated in her bid to reach a sixth Olympics when she and partner Brooke Sweat lost in a qualifying match Wednesday in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

The early-round loss to the Netherlands means the U.S. pair could not overtake fellow Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil on the international tour point list. Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and her partner, Alix Klineman, have already clinched a berth in Tokyo, and there is a quota of two teams for each country in each of the women's and men's fields.

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“It's a terrible, terrible feeling,” Walsh Jennings said after the match. “It's been a really rough year, and to lose in a qualifier, it feels really hard right now.”

Walsh Jennings, who won gold in Athens, Beijing and London with Misty May-Treanor and silver in Rio de Janeiro with Ross, also played on the U.S. indoor team at the Sydney Games in 2000. She and Sweat had been in position to qualify for Tokyo during most of the pandemic-extended qualifying period before Claes and Sponcil won an FIVB event in Sochi, Russia, last week — their first international gold medal.

To retake the lead, Walsh Jennings and Sweat would have needed to at least get to the bronze medal match this weekend in Ostrava and hope that Claes and Sponcil didn't reach the semifinals.

“Not this time,” Walsh Jennings said. “It’s a really hard day for us, so I think we’ll feel the pain.”

Claes, 25, and Sponcil, 24, will be the youngest team to represent the United States in the Olympic beach volleyball tournament.

The two U.S. men's Olympic berths are still in contention in Ostrava, with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb and his partner, Taylor Crabb, in the lead and 2008 gold medalist Phil Dalhausser holding down the second spot with his partner, Nick Lucena.

Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabbe need a strong showing — and some help — to pass one of the two leading teams.

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