Sarah Burke

Memorial stickers for freestyle skier Sarah Burke banned by IOC

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The International Olympic Committee has confirmed that it has banned athletes from wearing memorial stickers for late Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who played a pivotal role in getting the ski halfpipe into the Sochi Olympics before her death in January of 2012 from injuries sustained in a training accident.

In comments relayed by Reuters, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said his group could help organize another event to remember Burke but that “the competitions themselves, which are a place of celebration, are probably not the right place to really do that and we like to keep that separate.”

“But we absolutely will support and want to help any kind of remembrance that the athletes particularly want to do,” he added.

Not happy with the IOC’s decision to ban the Burke stickers is Australian snowboarder Torah Bright, who talked about the matter a few days ago on her Instagram page and also hailed Burke as “a beautiful, talented, powerful woman, who’s spirit inspires me still.”

MORE: Fans choose Sochi helmet for U.S. skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender

Burke, a four-time X Games champion (2007-09, 2011) and the 2005 superpipe world champion, lobbied the IOC to add ski halfpipe onto the Olympic program. After an unsuccessful attempt for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it was officially put in for Sochi in April of 2011.

Additionally, the IOC has sent a letter to the Norwegian Olympic Committee informing them that the black armbands worn by their cross-country skiers on Saturday was inappropriate (they noted that it was merely a reminder of the rules, not a reprimand).

The armbands were worn to remember the brother of team member Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen. He passed away last week – one day before the Opening Ceremony.

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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