Jessica Jerome

Jessica Jerome wins first U.S. Olympic Trials in women’s ski jumping (video)

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Women’s ski jumpers will fly at the Olympics for the first time in Sochi. Jessica Jerome assured she will be there by winning the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday.

Jerome, 26, scored 248.5 points over two jumps at the 2002 Olympic jumping venue in her hometown of Park City, Utah. She beat 2009 world champion Lindsey Van by two points.

“This is huge,” Jerome said on NBC. “I can’t believe that I’ve already earned my spot. It’s amazing.”

Nick Fairall, 24 and of Andover, N.H., won the men’s event to make his first Olympic team after just missing the 2010 Vancouver Games. He scored 253.5 points, topping two-time Olympian Anders Johnson.

Only the winners clinched Olympic berths Sunday. The rest of the U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping Teams (up to four men and four women total) are expected to be named by Jan. 22.

The International Olympic Committee added one individual women’s ski jumping event into the Olympics in 2011 after a decade-long fight for inclusion from the likes of Women’s Ski Jumping USA. The men have three Olympic events, two individual competitions and a team jump.

Reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson remains out after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee in an Aug. 21 crash. Hendrickson, 19, expects to return to jumping on snow in about two weeks and compete in World Cup events later in January.

Hendrickson is expected to be placed on the Olympic Team.

“I’m trying not to think about that,” Hendrickson said on NBC when asked about her confidence of being part of the team in Sochi. “I’m just focusing on my training and what I have to do on the hill when I get back to jumping again.”

If healthy, Hendrickson is a co-favorite for Olympic gold with Japan’s Sara Takanashi, who is 17, undefeated in three World Cups this season and not quite 5 feet tall.

A U.S. men’s ski jumper hasn’t won a World Cup medal since 1991 nor placed in the top 10 of an Olympic event since 1988.

That likely won’t change in Sochi, where the medal favorites hail from Austria, Germany, Norway, Poland and Switzerland.

“We definitely have to stay positive, keep focused on our goals,” Fairall said on NBC. “Ultimate goal is a gold medal, of course. Definitely stay focused, keep working hard, keep your head up no matter what.”

The crowd in Park City was reportedly the largest since the 2002 Olympics. That caused transportation problems getting to the venue.

Historic winner at U.S. Olympic Nordic Combined Trials

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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