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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Who will make U.S. men’s gymnastics team for worlds?

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Three thoughts after the first of two days of men’s competition at the P&G Championships …

1. Get to know Yul Moldauer

Moldauer, born in Seoul and adopted, leads the all-around decisively at the halfway point. He’s up by 1.95 points over NCAA rival Akash Modi going into Saturday’s final day in Anaheim (TV/streaming info here).

It’s no surprise. Not only did Moldauer win the AT&T American Cup (over Olympic silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev) on March 4, but zero Olympians are competing in the all-around this week.

The rising University of Oklahoma junior can fall on Saturday and still win the national title. He can fall multiple times and still make the six-man world championships team, which is chosen by a committee within 24 hours of the last routine Saturday.

Moldauer, 20, likely wasn’t mentioned once during Rio Olympic coverage. He was fifth in the all-around at the 2016 P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. He didn’t make the five-man Olympic team. He wasn’t even one of the three alternates. Moldauer was young, coming off an NCAA all-around title as a freshman. His Olympics would be Tokyo, not Rio.

You know Moldauer has done well if his hair is wilder than his clean gymnastics. Rather than pure strength, he admires the artistic style of 2008 Olympian Sasha Artemev, one of his coaches before enrolling at OU.

“I’m small,” the 5-foot-3 Moldauer said, “quick and sharp.”

Another six clean routines Saturday, and Moldauer is off to October’s worlds in Montreal as one of a possible two U.S. all-arounders.

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2. Will there be a second all-arounder?

It’s looking like Modi or nobody at this point. The worlds in a post-Olympic year do not include a team competition, so the selection committee must decide how many of its six spots should be used on all arounders and how many on one- or two-event specialists.

In 2009, the U.S. put two men in the all-around at worlds, leaving one spot per apparatus for a specialist. In 2013, the U.S put one man in the world all-around, creating two spots per apparatus for specialists. (A nation can’t enter more than three athletes per apparatus in qualification)

Barring disaster Saturday, Modi should go to worlds in one role or another. The Olympic alternate has beaten Moldauer this year — winning the NCAA all-around title for Stanford — and came into Anaheim as a 1B to Moldauer’s 1A with the potential for more difficult routines. But Modi’s title hopes may have been dashed on his second of 12 events this weekend. He fell off pommel horse Thursday.

3. The rest of the world team?

If Moldauer and Modi are penciled in, four spots are left.

Tack on Alex Naddour, the only man in Anaheim with an Olympic medal. He took pommel horse bronze in Rio and had the highest score on the apparatus on Thursday by nearly half a point.

Two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak is not going for his fifth straight U.S. all-around title this week. He’s still coming back from a February torn Achilles. That means just two events this weekend — high bar and pommel horse. Mikulak is most valuable on the former, where he would have had the highest score Thursday if not for a half-point deduction for putting an extra, eight-inch mat down as a precautionary measure to soften his landing. What’s more, Mikulak wasn’t cleared to perform on high bar until one week ago.

Donnell Whittenburg, who made the last two world teams but not the Olympic one, leads on still rings and is capable of two monster vaults. His struggles on pommel horse and high bar Thursday shouldn’t cost him at all. He’s also tops on parallel bars aside from Moldauer and Modi.

After those five men, the clear hole is left on floor exercise. Whittenburg was once an asset here, but both Colin VanWicklen (14.6) and Eddie Penev (14.55) outscored him Thursday. VanWicklen, 21, just finished his senior year at Oklahoma. Penev, 27, is looking for his fourth worlds appearance and first since 2010, when he represented Bulgaria. The better man on Saturday might just win a trip to Montreal.

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