Simone Biles

Simone Biles hangs on for U.S. gymnastics national title over Kyla Ross; McKayla Maroney impresses

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Simone Biles won silver on all four individual events at the U.S. gymnastics championships, but the tiny 16-year-old earned gold in the standings that mattered most.

Biles, of Spring, Texas, took the U.S. all-around crown over Olympian Kyla Ross by two tenths of a point, 120.45 to 120.25, after two days of competition. Biles stumbled on her final routine, uneven bars (14.2), but Ross bobbled on her finale, the balance beam (15.25), to keep the order the same as it was after the opening night Thursday.

Both Biles and Ross appear to be locks, as does Olympian McKayla Maroney, to make the four-woman team for the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 30-Oct. 6. The roster will be chosen after a selection camp next month.

Biles won the biggest title, but Maroney and Ross split the individual event gold medals: Ross for uneven bars and balance beam and Maroney for vault and floor exercise, the only events she competed on at the XL Center.

Biles started with complete confidence on the beam Saturday, nailing a routine for a 15 that would increase her lead on Ross to over a point. She put on a performance clinic on floor (14.95) and a clean Amanar on vault (15.8).

Heading into the final rotation the only thing that could cost Biles her first senior national title was a major mistake. Part way through her uneven bars routine she made one. Biles lost her footing during a move on the high bar, ended up in a dead hang and had to take an extra swing, a mistake that nearly obliterated her 1.25-point lead over Ross. Biles handled the error like a veteran, quickly getting back on track and landing a solid dismount to capture the title in dramatic fashion.

“I wasn’t going to let go of that bar,” Biles laughed when asked about what she was thinking when she made the error.

Ross came out swinging on floor (14.5), defiantly landing the tumbling pass that tripped her up in night one. She continued with consistency, turning in nearly flawless vault (15.3) and uneven bars routines (14.95). Ross survived beam, but it wasn’t enough to surpass the dynamic Biles.

Maroney looked like she never took a break for training. She drove home an Amanar vault that delivered an execution score of 9.7, the highest of the entire competition … by a wide margin. She grabbed the floor title from Biles by one tenth.

“I know that I’m not just a one-event wonder.” said Maroney, the world champion and Olympic silver medalist on vault,

The fourth spot on the worlds team is up for grabs.

Brenna Dowell, third in the all-around with 116.55 points, continued to make her case to the selection committee, hitting with consistency and proving she can handle the pressure of big-time competition. Peyton Ernst (115.3) and Maggie Nichols (114.7) rounded out the top five.

Lexie Priessman, the 2012 U.S. junior national champion who withdrew with an Achilles injury before the competition, was added to the national team, but it appears her season is over.

“We don’t want to take risks that could cause more injury,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said.

Priessman will see a specialist next week to determine the extent of the injury.

Also added to the national team was Elizabeth Price, the Olympic alternate who bounced back Saturday after a weak opening night. Price competed on just two events, vault and uneven bars. Price could fill a void for the U.S. on uneven bars, but it will be tough for her to make the world team with Ross and Biles’ excellence there.

American Cup champion Katelyn Ohashi, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, did not compete at nationals and was not named to the national team at the conclusion of the competition. However, Ohashi can be placed on the national team at a training camp, but it also appears she will not be in contention for the World Championships team.

All-around
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 120.450
2. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 120.250
3. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 116.550
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 115.300
5. Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn., 114.700

Vault
1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 31.200
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 30.875
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 29.600

Uneven bars
1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 30.950
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 28.950
3. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 28.850
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 28.450
5. Ariana Guerra, League City, Texas, 28.350

Balance beam
1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 29.950
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 29.900
3. Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas, 28.950
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 28.600
5. Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn., 28.500

Floor exercise
1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 30.100
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 30.000
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 29.750
4. Madison Desch, Lenexa, Kan., 29.300
5. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 29.000

National team
Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas/Texas Dreams
Simone Biles, Spring, Texas/Bannon’s Gymnastix
Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo./GAGE
Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas/Texas Dreams
Madison Kocian, Dallas/WOGA
McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif./All-Olympia
Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn./Twin City Twisters
Elizabeth Price, Coopersburg, Pa./Parkettes
Lexie Priessman, Cincinnati, Ohio/Cincinnati Gymnastics
Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif./Gym-Max
MyKayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz./Desert Lights

Video: Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman talk Rio 2016

Ragan Smith delivers in first U.S. championship title win

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ragan Smith embraced the role of heavy favorite coming into the U.S. gymnastics championships.

Thrust into the spotlight for the first time in her career, the 17-year-old hardly appeared intimidated by the stage. Smith pulled away from the field to claim her first national title Sunday, posting a score of 115.250, more than three points clear of Jordan Chiles in second place and Riley McCusker in third.

Smith opened up a 1.3-point lead over McCusker in the opening round Friday but admitted afterward she wasn’t particularly impressed by her own performance. She was considerably sharper less than 48 hours later, her 57.850 total in the finals was the best in the 16-woman all-around field by nearly two points.

Smith is one of the few holdovers from the 2016 Olympic cycle, serving as an alternate for the “Final Five” team that won half of the available medals in Rio de Janeiro last fall. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez are taking breaks or have moved on, leaving Smith as the standard bearer for new national team coordinator Valeri Liukin.

The program appears to be in solid hands. Smith ditched “The Addams Family” themed floor routine she used last year for something a little more mature. It’s not the only part of her gymnastics that has grown up. Smith finished first on floor and beam and tied for third on bars.

Smith will be in the mix for the all-around title at the world championships in Montreal, where she’ll have a chance to extend the U.S.’s dominance. An American woman has won the world or Olympic title each of the last six years. Barring injury, Smith should be right there.

Liukin said he wasn’t alarmed following an uneven performance by the field in preliminaries, calling it a positive step for a group lacking in experience. The gymnastics were markedly improved in the finals.

Chiles slipped by McCusker into second thanks to a fabulous save on beam in which she turned a near disaster into something decidedly artful.

Chiles was in the middle of “wolf turn” (basically spinning on one foot while in a crouch on a 4-inch wide piece of wood) when she nearly fell over. Instead she rose to her feet, kept rotating, and went right into the next part of her routine as if it was planned all along.

Chiles’ steadiness gives Liukin another option as he tries to put together the rest of the four-woman team that will join Smith in Montreal. McCusker, only recently recovered from foot and wrist injuries, tried to keep the heat on Smith but stepped out of bounds following the last tumbling pass on her floor routine. McCusker finished first on bars — her legs practically magnetized together as she went from bar to bar — to win the event with ease.

Ashton Locklear, like Smith an alternate last summer, wound up second on bars with a watered down routine as he makes her way back from her own injury issues and should have time to install upgrades before Montreal.

Whoever heads to Canada in October will go with the usual expectations for what has become the sport’s most dominant program.

MORE: Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles has competed in the six previous U.S. National Championships, winning the last four, but in Anaheim this year, she’s watching from the sidelines. Biles won four gold medals (team, all-around, vault and floor) and one bronze (on beam) last summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

This week she revealed she has returned to the gym to prepare for a yet to be determined event, in her return to competition.

When asked how she’s been doing in the gym by NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce, Biles responded with her signature smile accompanied by an endearingly bashful eye roll, “the beginning is…OK.”

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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