Jessica Smith

No U.S. women’s short track relay at Sochi Olympics

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There will be no U.S. women’s short track relay team at the Olympics for the first time come February.

The team was disqualified in the heats of a World Cup event in Kolomna, Russia, last week. The World Cup event was one of two Olympic qualifiers where the combined placements determined which seven nations (plus host Russia) would earn Olympic berths.

Given the U.S. finished seventh in the first of two qualifiers, the DQ was a knockout blow in the second one.

Now, the U.S. will send three women’s short track skaters to Sochi for individual events rather than the maximum five allowed for nations with relay teams, U.S. Short Track coach Stephen Gough told the Chicago Tribune.

There are three individual events (500m, 1000m, 1500m), but a skater can compete in all three if they qualify. The U.S. Olympic Trials are Jan. 2-5.

“Obviously it’s a massive disappointment as the coaching staff felt that the team was on the right track this season,” Gough told the newspaper. “We never doubted that they could skate at the level of the top four ranked teams and challenge them for a place in the Olympic final. Unfortunately, this won’t happen.”

The 3000m relay was considered the U.S. women’s best chance for a medal in Sochi. The U.S. won silver in 1992, bronze in 1994 and bronze in 2010.

It’s not totally clear what exactly happened to cause the disqualification in Kolomna. Gough said there was an incident followed by a lengthy review after which the U.S. was disqualified.

“It’s not official they won’t qualify, but it doesn’t put us in a very good position to earn those spots,” US Speedskating said in an email last week. “After this weekend is over, the ISU will determine how many spots each country has, and we will know for certain then.”

US Speedskating did not respond to follow-up emails last week asking for details on how/why the relay team was disqualified and, on Monday, if the ISU made the determination.

ISU said in an email early Tuesday morning the list of qualifiers would be published on its website shortly.

Video: Brittany Bowe breaks world record at Salt Lake City (video)

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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