Ragan Smith, Ashton Locklear lead U.S. gymnastics’ new wave

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ANAHEIM, California (AP) — Technically, Ragan Smith never stepped foot on the floor as a competitor at the Rio Olympics as the star-studded U.S. women’s gymnastics team beat a steady and relentless path to the podium on its way to medal after medal after medal.

Not that it mattered to Smith. Technically the 17-year-old was a “replacement athlete,” a fancy description for “alternate.” Funny, she didn’t feel like one as she trained up to and through the games just in case.

“If you ask her, she says she’s an Olympian,” coach Kim Zmeskal Burdette said.

And now she’s the center of attention.

As the “Final Five” take a break and weigh their future Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian are being inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame on Saturday — the 17-year-old Smith finds herself as the face of the program as the P&G Championships begin Friday night.

This weekend marks the first time since 2005 that no one on the previous Olympic team returned to compete the following year, leaving the stage to Smith and the next wave in a program that plans to keep on rolling with Valeri Liukin taking over for retired national coordinator Martha Karolyi.

“The expectations are the same,” said Rhonda Faehn, senior vice president of the women’s program.

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No big deal or anything. All Smith and company have to do is follow in the footsteps of the most decorated team of all time. That’s fine with Smith and her coach, who won Olympic bronze at age 16 in 1992.

“People ask about pressure and adding pressure and it’s doesn’t if that’s what you were striving for in the first place,” Zmeskal Burdette said. “If you want to be the one people are talking to, it gives you more confidence.”

Something Smith is not lacking. She made a splash in 2016 in her first year as a senior, her tiny size and infectious floor exercise — set to theme from “The Addams Family” — making her instantly recognizable. She’s ditched it for something a little more grown up this year, by design.

“It’s sassy instead of very cute,” Zmeskal-Burdette said. “That’s the character she feels very good with. She is sassy. So be it.”

And a pretty good gymnast in her own right. While she’s talked openly about trying to extend her elite career through the Tokyo Games, Smith is trying to focus on the now.

“I don’t think, ‘Oh the 2020 Olympics,’ I don’t think about that ever really,” she said. “I just have it in the back of my mind as a goal.”

One that remains far off. Biles did the near impossible when she won three consecutive world all-around titles before winning a record-tying five medals in Rio. At this point, Smith would settle for a solid weekend at the Honda Center and a spot as one of four U.S. women at October’s world championships in Montreal.

So far, so good. Smith won the AT&T American Cup in March and seems at ease with being one of the favorites, though not the only one.

Ashton Locklear served as an Olympic alternate along with Smith and is eager to prove she’s more than just a wonder on uneven bars. Riley McCusker shook off a shaky performance at the American Cup — including a frightening dismount on balance beam — to bounce back and win the all-around and the beam at an international meet in Italy a few weeks later.

“That’s the gymnast she is,” coach Maggie Haney said.

One who is hardly afraid of the standards set by those who came before.

“It’s definitely cool being the next generation,” McCusker said. “I think we can prove ourselves and be the same or even better than the last generation.”

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MORE: For Gabby Douglas, this break from gymnastics is different

Notable men’s hockey players eligible for PyeongChang Olympics

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With active NHL players, even Alex Ovechkin, set to miss the Olympics, a look at the most recognizable names who could be in PyeongChang …

Russia
Pavel Datsyuk
, Forward
The 39-year-old played at the last four Olympics and was Russia’s captain in Sochi. He’s also a four-time NHL All-Star from his 14 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Datsyuk left for the KHL last season. He could become the third-oldest Russian or Soviet Olympic men’s hockey player after Igor Larionov and Sergei Fedorov, also former Red Wings.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Forward
Like Datsyuk, Kovalchuk eyes his fifth Olympics, which would be a Soviet/Russian hockey record. At age 18 in 2002, he became the youngest Russian or Soviet Olympic men’s hockey player ever. Kovalchuk played 11 NHL seasons and made three All-Star teams. He has been in the KHL since 2013.

Andrei Markov, Defenseman
The most experienced former NHL blueliner eligible for PyeongChang. Markov, 38, made two NHL All-Star teams in 16 years with the Montreal Canadiens before moving to the KHL this year. He played at the last three Olympics for Russia.

Slava Voynov, Defenseman
Another two-time NHL All-Star defenseman. Voynov, 27, made the Sochi Olympic team the same year he won his second Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. In 2015, Voynov spent nearly two months in jail after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge before heading back to Russia and the KHL.

Sergey Mozyakin, Forward
The 36-year-old is the most decorated active skater never to play in the NHL. Mozyakin owns KHL career records in goals and points and, last season, set single-season league records in those categories. Mozyakin has never made an Olympic team, though he has played in several world championships.

Canada
Max Talbot, Forward
Best known for scoring both Pittsburgh Penguins goals to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Talbot, 33, played for four teams from 2005-2016 before moving to the KHL. He has never made a Canadian team for the Olympics or world championships.

Derek Roy, Forward
A Buffalo Sabres mainstay a decade ago. Roy, now 34, tallied at least 60 points in four straight seasons from 2006-10 and has played in Europe since 2015.

Ben Scrivens, Goalie
All three of Canada’s prospective Olympic goalies have NHL experience, but none more than Scrivens. He played in 144 games from 2011-16 before moving to the KHL. He also split time in net for Canada at the 2014 World Championship.

Cam Barker, Defenseman
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft played with four teams before beginning his KHL stint in 2013.

United States
Ryan Malone, Forward
The only player with Olympic experience to openly express interest in making Team USA. The Vancouver 2010 silver medalist hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015 but unretired this summer. He’s in the Minnesota Wild’s preseason camp but doesn’t expect to make the NHL club. He could use the camp to segue to the American Hockey League, which would make him Olympic eligible.

Troy Terry, Forward
The T.J. Oshie of the 2017 World Junior Championship. Terry went 3-for-3 in shootout attempts to lead the U.S. past Russia in the semifinals, then scored the only shootout goal of either nation in the final against Canada. Three months later, Terry helped the University of Denver to an NCAA title. Going into his junior NCAA season.

Chris Bourque, Forward
The son of Hall of Famer and Canadian Olympic defenseman Ray Bourque. Turned pro after one season at Boston University in 2005. Led all skaters with seven goals at the 2006 World Junior Championship, a tournament that included Evgeni MalkinJonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel. Bourque has played 51 games in the NHL but has spent the majority of his career in the AHL. The AHL’s active career leader in points is currently in the Washington Capitals’ training camp but is on an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears.

Nathan Gerbe, Forward
The diminutive 30-year-old played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Ryan Zapolski, Goalie
A journeyman with experience in the ECHL, the Finnish League and the KHL last season. Currently ranks second in the KHL in goals-against average (1.48 with a 6-1 record for Jokerit in Helsinki).

Sweden
Viktor Fasth, Goalie
Split time in the Anaheim Ducks’ net in 2012-13, then was Scrivens’ backup in Edmonton two seasons later before joining the KHL. Fasth, 35, was Sweden’s No. 1 at the 2017 World Championship until New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist joined the team and backstopped it to gold.

Jonas Gustavsson, Goalie
The only netminder other than Lundqvist to play for Sweden at either of the last two Olympics. The 32-year-old hasn’t been on the Swedish team at any world championship this Olympic cycle. His NHL ice time steadily decreased from 2012 until his last AHL demotion in January. Played 179 games among the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers from 2009 through 2017. Back in the Swedish League for the first time since 2009, when he earned MVP and a championship.

Joakim Lindström, Forward
Reigning Swedish League MVP. Lindström, 33, led the league in points in his return after stints in the NHL and KHL. He’s never made Sweden’s Olympic team but did play in the 2014 and 2015 World Championships.

Joel Lundqvist, Forward
Identical twin brother of the New York Rangers goalie. The 35-year-old captained Sweden to the world title in May — his third gold — but has never made an Olympic team. He played for the Dallas Stars from 2006-09 before moving back to the Swedish League.

Viktor Stalberg, Forward
Spent parts or all of the last eight seasons in the NHL before joining the Swiss League this summer. One of the most notable omissions from Sweden’s Sochi Olympic team.

Finland
Sami Lepistö, Defenseman
On Finland’s Olympic bronze-medal-winning teams in 2010 and 2014. Spent parts of five seasons in the NHL, the last in 2011-12 before signing in the KHL.

Mikko Koskinen, Goalie
Started four games for the New York Islanders in February 2011. Now in his fifth KHL season. Never saw much time internationally behind the likes of Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne until the 2016 World Championship. He was named the tournament’s top goalie with a 1.13 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, anchoring Finland to a silver medal.

Otto Koivula, Forward
The Finnish League Rookie of the Year turned 19 years old on Sept. 1. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Islanders last year.

Czech Republic
Jaromír Jágr, Forward
It was thought Sochi would be the final Olympics for Jagr, the last link to the Czech Republic’s gold-medal-winning team at the first Winter Games with NHL participation in 1998. But he’s still going at 45 years old. He played full NHL seasons the last five years but is currently unsigned.

Martin Erat, Forward
Three-time Olympian who spent 13 seasons in the NHL, leading the Nashville Predators in points in 2011-12. Erat, 36, played last season in the KHL and is now in the Czech League.

Milan Michálek, Forward
A 2012 NHL All-Star who played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. He led the Ottawa Senators with 35 goals in 2011-12. The 32-year-old was demoted to the AHL last October and is currently a free agent.

Slovakia
Andrej Meszároš, Defenseman
Three-time Olympian with 10 seasons of NHL experience. The 31-year-old is in his third season in the KHL.

Switzerland
Jonas Hiller, Goalie
The Swiss No. 1 at the last two Olympics, when he played for the Anaheim Ducks. Famously stopped 44 of 47 Canadian shots in a near upset in group play at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Hiller, now 35, moved back to the Swiss League last year but was not the primary goalie for Switzerland at the world championship in May.

Germany
Christian Ehrhoff, Defenseman
Played his first Olympics in 2002 at age 19, then played in the NHL from 2003-2016 while rejoining Germany for the Olympics in 2006 and 2010. The Germans didn’t qualify for Sochi but came back to nab one of the last spots in the PyeongChang field. In his second season back in the German League.

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MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups set

Study shows which colleges produce most U.S. Olympians

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Want to be an Olympian? Go West, young athlete.

An OlympStats.com study found that Stanford, UCLA, USC and the University of California were the top colleges or universities attended by the 9,000-plus Americans to compete in Olympic history.

Olympic historians Bill Mallon and Hilary Evans spent the summer compiling the statistics.

They found that Stanford had at least 289 Olympians, followed by UCLA with 277, USC with 251 and Cal with 212.

Stanford and UCLA tied for the most Summer Olympians with 280.

The most Winter Olympians? The University of Minnesota with 93, more than two-thirds being hockey players.

Ivy League schools Harvard and Yale dominated the early editions of the Summer and Winter Olympics.

But USC topped the list at every Summer Games from 1928 through 1964 (tied with Cal in 1948). UCLA’s run went from 1968 through 2004. Stanford had the most in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

In Winter Olympics, the University of Utah topped the 2002 and 2006 teams, followed by Utah’s Westminster College in 2010 and 2014. Many skiers and snowboarders who train in Park City take classes at those two schools.

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