Speedskating

US Speedskating report on Sochi to be finalized shortly

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A number of issues contributed to U.S. speed skaters’ poor results in Sochi, including pre-Olympic travel, the new skin suit and a new skate sharpening system, the US Speedskating executive director told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Certainly, there’s no silver bullet,” US Speedskating executive director Ted Morris told the newspaper. “There were several factors that led to our lack of performance in Sochi. The good news is that in identifying them we can put together a really good plan for Korea [2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang].”

U.S. speed skaters were expected to rack up medals in Sochi, led by Olympic and world medalists Shani Davis and Heather Richardson. Americans won zero medals with a top individual finish of seventh place.

The U.S. has historically won more medals in speed skating than any other Winter Olympic sport and finished off the podium altogether for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games.

Immediate blame was placed on an Under Armour racing suit billed as the fastest in the world, different from the suits that U.S. skaters wore during a successful World Cup season leading into the Olympics. Skaters reverted to the old suits during the Olympics, but results didn’t get any better.

A new skate sharpening system was also introduced, but that did not receive nearly the same attention.

“That backfired on us, without a doubt,” Morris told the newspaper. “Our athletes did not feel comfortable with the suits or the polish.

“Obviously, as we plan for the future if we have ‘secret weapons’ we want our athletes competing in them before the Olympics.”

Also scrutinized was the decision to hold a pre-Olympic training camp in Collalbo, Italy, outdoors and up in the mountains. The Sochi Olympic speed skating venue was indoors and near sea level.

“Collalbo probably was not the right place to go based on the weather conditions,” Morris told the newspaper. “It was helpful for us from a team-building aspect. … But with the cold weather and the fluctuation in the ice conditions it was not the ideal place to be able to peak from an on-ice standpoint.”

US Speedskating, the U.S. Olympic Committee and outside experts spent weeks since Sochi dissecting what went wrong. A report is expected to be finalized within a few days, Morris told the newspaper.

“It became fairly clear that a majority of our athletes for whatever reasons just did not peak at the Olympics,” Morris said. “We saw that in testing of their physical strength, including at the Olympics, and we saw it from a performance standpoint on the ice.”

Travel might have been too excessive. Not only did the team gather in Collalbo, but some skaters also traveled to Japan for the World Sprint Championships in January and the team also went to Munich for U.S. Olympic Team processing just before the Games.

U.S. skaters won a combined 11 medals at two World Cup stops after the Olympics to close the 2013-14 season.

The four-time Olympic medalist Davis will be 35 years old come 2018. The top U.S. women, Richardson and Brittany Bowe, will be 28 and 29.

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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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