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Ragan Smith leads U.S. women in gymnastics worlds qualifying

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MONTREAL — With words of advice from Aly Raisman, four U.S. women began the new Olympic cycle by qualifying for world gymnastics championships finals Wednesday night.

“She texted all of us today, we were in a group chat,” said Ragan Smith, who qualified second into Friday’s all-around final at the 1976 Olympic Stadium. “She said have fun, show off, just do what you do in training and trust your training.”

It helped.

“It always helps,” said Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate. “At Olympic Trials, whenever I was there, she always calmed me down and stuff and cheered for me. She was the leader of the five girls [captain of the Olympic team]. She always helped every single one of us.”

Smith and Morgan Hurd led the way Wednesday, qualifying second and sixth into the all-around final.

WORLDS: All women’s finals qualifiers

Smith, the U.S. all-around champion in August, fell off the balance beam but was otherwise fairly clean. She also had the top floor exercise score.

Smith scored 55.932 overall, one thousandth of a point behind Japanese leader Mai Murakami.

“I had a few mistakes, but pretty good,” Smith said. “I don’t really care about the scores right now.”

Hurd, who was sixth at the P&G Championships in August while coming back from elbow surgery, scored 54.832.

She also qualified second into the balance beam final but put her knee down on a floor exercise pass. She beamed afterward.

“It’s a big, glowing orb inside me,” said Hurd, a 16-year-old in her first year a senior gymnast.

Everyone starts from zero in the finals.

Ashton Locklear, also an Olympic alternate, and Jade Carey, in her first year as an elite gymnast, made the eight-woman uneven bars and vault finals Saturday, respectively. 

Carey also qualified third into Sunday’s floor final with Smith, while Hurd is in the beam final.

The Americans, with no Olympic experience, are competing against a new international field.

Zero Rio Olympic champions are in the finals, with most of the gold medalists taking the year off, including every member of the Final Five.

Romanian Larisa Iordache, perhaps the closest woman to a rival to Simone Biles in the last Olympic cycle, tore her Achilles in warm-up and withdrew.

Iordache entered as a co-favorite with Smith. Smith competed a few hours after Iordache and was unaware that her biggest threat was already out.

Now, Smith has an even greater chance of extending the U.S. run of Olympic and world all-around titles dating to 2011 (Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles).

Locklear, who was edged out for an Olympic spot by Madison Kocian, scored 14.566 on uneven bars.

She qualified sixth into that final, which includes China’s Fan Yilin, who was part of a four-way tie for gold in 2015.

On vault, Carey soared on her Amanar, taking one big step on the landing, and averaged 14.849 for the two vaults.

Only one woman outscored her in qualifying, reigning world champ Maria Paseka of Russia.

Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, who last year became the oldest female Olympic gymnast ever at 41, was the eighth and last qualifier into the vault final.

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WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule | ScoresWomen to Watch | Men to Watch

USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.