Gracie Gold

Who will represent U.S. Figure Skating in Olympic team event?

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The new team event in Olympic figure skating carries secrecy. Just ask the U.S. skaters.

“For us, we’ve been looking at it and evaluating what strategy to take for a while,” ice dancer Charlie White said. “Right now I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about too much strategy.”

The U.S. skaters in the team event have yet to be announced. The way they will be determined recalls the way the Olympic Team was decided after the U.S. Championships earlier this month. If you recall that, there was a little bit of drama.

The team event will begin the night before the Opening Ceremony (Thursday, Feb. 6) and wrap up two nights after the cauldron is lit (Sunday, Feb. 9).

The medal contenders are thought to be the U.S., Russia, Canada and Japan.

Each nation entered will have men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance skaters perform one short program and one free skate each. The event will include 10 nations with a cut down to five after the short programs.

Two skaters (or two couples or one skater and one couple) may be subbed out after the short program. For example, the U.S. could enter Gracie Gold in the women’s short and then Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner in the women’s free skate.

The key question at this point is who will compete for the U.S. There are procedures in place that provide an outline.

All skaters needed to submit intent to U.S. Figure Skating in December if they were interested in doing two programs, one program or no programs in the team event. They could still change their intent though.

From there, the first item to be determined is which two disciplines could be subbed out from among men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance.

Here’s how U.S. Figure Skating tells it, referring to the International Committee Management Subcommittee (ICMS).

The ICMS ranks the four disciplines based on their “opportunity to medal and/or provide the strongest field in the individual events.” It’s the same criteria that was used to determine the Olympic Team after the U.S. Championships earlier this month.

The top-ranked discipline will get first choice of subbing out. What are those rankings? Well, U.S. Figure Skating is keeping those internal.

Clearly, the best U.S. chance for a medal comes in ice dance with reigning world champions Meryl Davis and White, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani.

It is thought the next best chances for a medal are, in order, the women with Gold, Edmunds and Wagner followed by men with Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown and then pairs with Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir and Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay.

If the rankings go that way, ice dance and women will have the first option of being the two disciplines that may sub out after the short programs.

The next question, after it’s decided which disciplines will sub out, is which specific athletes will be subbed in and out?

Again, it’s determined by rankings, the same individual skater rankings that were used to determine the Olympic Team. Those rankings came under scrutiny when Wagner, who finished fourth at the U.S. Championships, was ranked above third place Mirai Nagasu and put on the three-woman Olympic Team.

The top-ranked skater(s) will get first choice of which program(s) they would like to enter. They could enter both programs, one program or no programs. Whatever’s left over goes to the second-ranked skater and then the third-ranked skater.

It is unknown what the specific ICMS rankings are. Gold won the U.S. Championship, but it’s not assured she’s ranked first. If Gold is ranked first, and women’s is one of the two disciplines able to sub out, she said she would prefer to skate one event and allow another woman to sub in.

“We talked it over, of course,” Gold said. “But it’s all trying to keep it super secret. We don’t want to share the USFS deep, dark secrets. But I think that it would be best, especially since it’s new, to probably split. So, just maybe do one program and let another lady step in. That way more people get to be on the team and experience it, and we don’t get too tired before the big [individual] competition starts.

“The long program is strong, and I’ve had a lot of really consistent runs with it. Competing is definitely easier for me once I get going, but the short program I am totally in love with. … Whichever one I’m selected for I’ll be very happy with.”

Here’s where it would get interesting.

If the U.S. enters different women for the short and long program, who goes? Will the rankings fall straight in line with U.S. Championships results — Gold, Edmunds, Wagner — or will they be different when factoring in U.S. Figure Skating’s criteria of looking at results in the year preceding the U.S. Championships?

The wait for answers to some of these questions could be long. U.S. Figure Skating said the entries for the short program are due Feb. 5 at 10 a.m. Sochi time.

The entries for the long program are due 10 minutes after the short program concludes.

U.S. Olympic Team roster (with Twitter handles)

Ragan Smith finds joy in college gymnastics after life-changing decision

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Ragan Smith, after her first two weeks of college gymnastics, quickly pointed out the coolest part of competing for the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s the noise that erupts on the last pass of her floor exercise, or upon her dismount off the uneven bars or balance beam.

They are similar sounds to what drew her to commit to Oklahoma back in 2015, when she was 15 years old.

“The girls in practice were all cheering for each other,” she recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

Last spring, Smith called Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler with a request. The Texan wanted to enroll at OU that summer, a year earlier than planned. Originally, Smith committed to the university with the intention of deferring until after the 2020 Olympic season.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate in her first year at the senior elite level, began this Olympic cycle in 2017 by winning the U.S. all-around title. Granted, the triumph came during Simone Biles‘ one-year break. But consider that Smith’s margin of victory — 3.4 points — was greater than Biles’ average margin for her four national titles from 2013-16.

Everything changed for Smith on Oct. 6, 2017. Minutes before she was to compete as the favorite in the world championships all-around, she suffered an ankle injury warming up on vault (reportedly three torn ligaments). She was withdrawn from the meet and fought injuries for the rest of her elite career.

In calling Kindler last spring, Smith signaled she was ready to move on from Olympic-level or “elite” gymnastics. It is possible for collegians to compete at U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, but no woman with NCAA experience has made any of the last three Olympic teams.

“I felt like my time was done in elite,” said Smith, whose mother and aunt competed for Auburn and Maryland, respectively. “I really just wanted to move on with my life and everything.”

Kindler was walking in an academic center on campus when Smith called her last spring.

“[Smith] said, ‘I was in the shower, and I was thinking, and I think I really, really want to come,'” Kindler said. “‘My body is ready to be done with elite gymnastics, and my mind is ready to move forward, and I would love to come to school this year. Is there a spot for me?’

“We saved a spot in case she changed her mind [about waiting until after the Olympics], but the plan was always for her to defer. We never talked about anything else, so I was very surprised by the phone call.”

Kindler urged Smith to think it over. Discuss it with her elite coach, 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

“[Zmeskal] and I had a really good understanding of what Ragan’s goals were, which is why I think it had to be Ragan’s decision,” Kindler said. “I didn’t want to place any influence on anything. Kim thinks the world of Ragan. She was in full support. Her and I texted back and forth and spoke about it. She said she wanted Ragan to think about it a little bit, and she did do that, and still had decided that this was for her. I think Kim supported that decision, just as I said I would support whatever she wanted to do.”

Smith shared the news on July 7.

“I have moved on from the 1st chapter of my life and on to the 2nd,” was posted on her Instagram, accompanied by a photo of her in a crimson leotard. “I am so excited to be joining the class of 2019.”

Smith joined the defending national champion program, one that captured three of the last four NCAA titles. By enrolling a year early, Smith gets to be teammates with senior Maggie Nichols.

Nichols was second to Biles at the 2015 U.S. Championships, making her a bona fide contender for the Rio Olympic team. Early in 2016, Nichols tore a meniscus on a vault landing and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. She announced retirement from elite gymnastics two days after finishing sixth at the Olympic trials, one spot behind Smith, and not being named to the Olympic team.

Smith said she has already benefited from Nichols’ experience, coming to her with questions to aid her transition.

“What an incredible opportunity to have Ragan and Maggie on the same team,” Kindler said.

The Sooners are 9-0 this year and 26-0 since the start of 2019. Smith was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week each of the season’s first three weeks. Not incredibly surprising, given Smith’s pedigree.

Perhaps more notable: Kindler said Smith hasn’t had a single ankle problem since arriving in Norman in July.

Back in August 2018, Smith said the ankle still hurt sometimes, that she had not completed a practice without pain that whole year and a coach joked to her, “You already have a 100-year-old body.”

Smith is competing easier routines collegiately than as an elite, as is the norm. But Kindler found that her passion for the sport has not waned.

“As an elite athlete, you don’t necessarily have to learn anything when you come to college,” Kindler said. “In fact, you can scale back what you’re doing, but I feel like she has a real eagerness to continue to refine what she’s doing and to learn new skills. She wants to continue to get better, and I love that about her.”

At her first college meet, Smith remembered the feeling of adrenaline brought on by competing not just for herself, but for women with whom she will call teammates week in and week out for the coming years.

“I didn’t want to let go of elite because it’s been, like, my whole life and my dream and everything,” said Smith, who was inspired by McKayla Maroney‘s 2012 Olympic vault and then had a dog named Rio. “But at the same time, my mind was telling me to come to college and have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, because I love it here.”

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Dustin Johnson wonders if Olympic golf will properly fit into his schedule

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Dustin Johnson, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer, said he isn’t sure the Tokyo Olympics will fit well into his schedule, assuming he qualifies for what will be a very competitive U.S. team of four.

“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do,” he said when asked if the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are goals this year. “But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that, because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics on Tuesday, saying they’re not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

Johnson is ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, who has voiced intent to play in Tokyo should he qualify.

But the current world rankings, based on a two-year, rolling window of results, do not exactly mirror Olympic qualifying, which takes into account only results after the 2018 U.S. Open. Rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter has Thomas, Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as the current U.S. top four in Olympic qualifying. Woods is fifth and Johnson seventh.

The cutoff to determine the Olympic field of 60 golfers overall is after the U.S. Open in June.

The Olympic golf tournament is July 30-Aug. 2. There is no PGA Tour event that weekend. The FedEx Cup Playoffs start two weeks after the Olympics. Last season, Johnson did not play the tournaments that will immediately precede and follow the Olympics — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored,” Johnson said in a statement at the time. “[Wife] Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her or our family at risk.”

Paulina gave birth to their second son in June 2017.

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