Mikaela Shiffrin overcomes gate malfunction for bounce-back win

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Something strange happened during Mikaela Shiffrin‘s second and final run of a World Cup slalom on Sunday.

Shiffrin was skiing with a two tenths of a second lead when, all of a sudden, a red gate she cleared popped off in Maribor, Slovenia. It bounced off one of her ski poles and landed between her skis in the middle of the course.

Shiffrin cleared the next two gates with that broken red gate ricocheting at her boots. She eventually skied over that gate and left it behind her. Somehow, she only fell .09 behind at the next split time.

Shiffrin had fewer than 20 seconds to regain her speed and the lead. She did just that, and won by .19 of a second over Swiss Wendy Holdener.

“I saw a lot of gates were breaking when I was watching the other girls,” Shiffrin said. “I thought that, probably, it would happen for me as well. And it did, but with everybody else it seemed the gate went out of the way. For me, it just kept, like, getting stuck on my skis and my boots. So it was a bit distracting, but I don’t think it cost too much. I was focused.”

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With the win, Shiffrin notched an unprecedented feat.

Lindsey Vonn hasn’t done it. Neither has Ingemar StenmarkFranz Klammer or Alberto Tomba.

Shiffrin became the first skier to win five World Cup races in the same discipline, any discipline, in four straight years. She also won a handful of slaloms in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Remarkably, she doesn’t turn 22 years old for another two months.

In all, Shiffrin has raced 30 slaloms across the Olympics, world championships and World Cups the last four seasons. She has won 22 of them, including 14 of her last 15.

She bounced back Sunday from a stunning DNF in the previous slalom last Tuesday, which broke a personal 15-race winning streak in the discipline.

Shiffrin now owns 27 career World Cup victories, one more than Tina Maze and equal with Maria Höfl-Riesch, the retired skiers who were Vonn’s biggest rivals in their heyday.

She also increased her World Cup overall standings lead to 305 points over Swiss Lara Gut through 18 of a scheduled 37 races. However, more speed races than technical races remain this season. If Shiffrin and Gut repeat their average finishes per discipline the rest of the season, Shiffrin will win the overall title by about 25 points.

“One of my big goals that I want to accomplish is the overall,” said Shiffrin, who could become the third U.S. woman to take the biggest annual prize in ski racing (Tamara McKinney, Vonn). “And I don’t know if it happens this year, but eventually that will be a big goal. … Right now, my focus is more world championships, but, eventually it will be more overall, probably.”

Shiffrin will be favored in the next World Cup race, a night slalom in Flachau, Austria, on Tuesday.

Gut is expected to begin her ascent next weekend, with a downhill and combined in Zauchensee, Austria. Vonn and fellow U.S. Olympic champion Julia Mancuso, both coming back from major injuries, could make their season debuts there.

VIDEO: Tina Maze makes bizarre farewell in final race

Ragan Smith, after watching in Rio, leads P&G Championships

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ragan Smith admits it’s a little weird to look at the scoreboard during a gymnastics meet and not see Simone Biles’ name at the top.

“Nobody can beat Simone,” Smith said of the Olympic champion. “She’s unstoppable. She’s amazing.”

And also taking a break following her historic Rio performance, leaving the 17-year-old Smith as the standard bearer for a program in the midst of a transition.

It’s a role Smith insists she’s ready for, and on the opening night of the P&G Championships, Smith looked the part.

Sassy on floor, steady on beam and solid everywhere else, Smith posted an all-around score of 57.400 on Friday.

That’s 1.3 points clear of Riley McCusker during two hours that saw the sea of new faces following in the wake of the Final Five deal with more than a fair amount of nerves.

Smith can fall and still win the national all-around title on the final day of competition Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“It’s kind of nice, like, having a new generation coming up,” Smith, who is coached by 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal Burdette, said on NBCSN. “I think it’s a little less pressure, but I still kind of feel like it’s the same because I had no idea what was going to happen last year.”

The second- and third-highest scores Friday actually came from the earlier junior division. With no team event at October’s world championships, senior depth is less necessary this year, the first nationals with zero Olympians since 2008.

Ashton Locklear, like Smith an Olympic team alternate, put together a typically precise routine on uneven bars but fell off the balance beam.

Alyona Shchennikova, who won the U.S. Classic last month, saw any legitimate chance at winning a national title evaporate when a nightmarish beam routine sent her tumbling to eighth.

Morgan Hurd stepped out of bounds on her floor routine and shorted a landing to wind up sixth.

New national team coordinator Valeri Liukin, who mentored most of the women in the field while they were in the U.S. developmental program, allowed things didn’t exactly go smoothly.

Yet he’s hardly concerned. This is kind of how it’s supposed to go.

“This is the first year after Olympic Games, and it’s tough, historically always,” Liukin said. “I’m just hoping it’s not only for us.”

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Smith seemed at ease in the spotlight. Save two bobbles on beam — where she still posted the highest score of the night — Smith avoided the kind of missteps that were commonplace elsewhere.

For now, that’s enough.

Smith captured the AT&T American Cup on March 4 before a minor injury in the spring interrupted her training. No biggie.

She was back in form in front an audience that included Biles, who told NBCSN viewers she returned to the gym two weeks ago, the first step of her planned comeback.

It will still be months — if not longer — before Biles will be competition ready.

“No plans yet,” Liukin said. “We [are] just hoping that she’s coming back and she comes back as Simone Biles.”

Either way, Liukin is confident the program remains on solid ground. Yes, this group doesn’t exactly have the star power of the Final Five that brought home four golds, four silvers and a bronze.

Then again, neither does any other country.

“We’re just starting, they’re brand new,” Liukin said. “We need time to build it.”

While Locklear remains among the best on the world on uneven bars — she posted a 14.35 using a watered-down routine that will include upgrades between now and October’s world championships in Montreal — she faltered on beam, coming off in the middle of her routine and then taking a big step on her dismount.

McCusker, who won the Jesolo Trophy on April 1, put together an elegant bars set that scored a 14.55 (best of the night) and was nearly Smith’s match on beam.

Not bad considering she spent a considerable portion of the spring and early summer with casts on one of her feet and one of her wrist.

McCusker wasn’t cleared to do her full bars routine together until three weeks ago.

There she was on Friday night making a pretty solid case that she should be in the mix for the four-woman world team named after a camp next month.

“I still have a watered-down vault, I still have a lot of stuff to add on beam,” McCusker said. “But I’m starting to get used to being on the podium and more confident in what I can do.”

Only McCusker, Jordan Chiles — whose Amanar vault earned a 15.15, the best on any apparatus — and Margzetta Frazier head into Sunday’s finals within two points of Smith, who wasn’t getting ahead of herself.

“It feels great but I definitely can do better,” Smith said. “[But] I mean, I like being on the top, so it kind of feels good.”

VIDEO: Simone Biles says she’s back in the gym

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Simone Biles says she’s back in the gym (video)

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Simone Biles is back in the gym.

In between giggles, Biles said she returned to the gym two weeks ago in an NBCSN interview at the P&G Championships in Anaheim on Friday night.

“I actually started, like, two Fridays ago,” Biles said. “I’m weak. But I’m coming back. I’m just doing conditioning and basics right now.”

Biles last competed at the Rio Olympics, winning five medals, including four golds, for the greatest single-Games medal haul by a female gymnast in nearly three decades. That came after Biles swept every U.S. and world all-around title in that four-year Olympic cycle.

The 20-year-old said late last year and early this year that she planned to return to training in late 2017 or early 2018 with an eye on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s OK to sit out one [year],” Biles said. “I can’t imagine being out on the floor now.”

Biles has not set a return to competition. Her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, moved from Texas to Florida after Rio.

If Biles makes the Tokyo 2020 team, she can attempt to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since the late Czech Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

Gabby Douglas attempted this feat in Rio but did not qualify for the all-around final.

Douglas said earlier this month that she has not decided whether she will return to competition.

Aly Raisman said in September that she plans to return to training after taking 2017 off. Laurie Hernandez said she hopes to go for 2020 but has not set a return to training.

Madison Kocian is the lone member of the Olympic team who has competed since Rio, but it wasn’t on the elite stage. The Texan did a full freshman season for UCLA with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff in her shoulder.

Kocian said in June that she has not decided if she will return to elite gymnastics.

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