Meryl Davis, Charlie White will not defend Olympic ice dance title

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NEW YORK — Meryl Davis and Charlie White will not compete next season, meaning they won’t defend their Olympic ice dance title in PyeongChang.

“It’s still really weird to say that out loud,” White said, adding that they’re not retiring. “I’m not really sure what tone to use. It’s not like we’re celebrating it. It’s a little bit disappointing, but at the same time, it’s nice to finally come to a decision.”

Davis and White, who both turn 30 years old this year, haven’t competed since Sochi while still skating in shows and exploring other opportunities, many of them products of becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance gold medalists.

The decision not to defend their Olympic title was nearly three years in the making for a couple that started skating together at ages 9 and 10 in 1997 in Michigan. From 2009 on, they captured six straight national titles, two world titles and an Olympic medal of every color.

“Since Sochi, we’ve been giving it a lot of thought, a lot of time,” Davis said, sitting to White’s right on the mezzanine level of a Midtown Manhattan hotel. “It always felt like the right direction to be moving in.”

In June 2014, Davis and White announced they would sit out the 2014-15 season. In March 2015, they said they would extend the break through the 2015-16 season. Then last October, they said they wouldn’t skate in the 2016-17 season.

Davis and White trained together in Michigan and skated together in shows around the world the last three years. They will continue to do so at least through the spring on a Stars on Ice tour.

“People ask me now at competitions, do you wish you were out there?” Davis said. “After giving it a lot of thought, I always say, no, I feel really good about the capacity I’m here in right now. I think that was really telling for me.”

White agreed. He pointed to the freedom of not feeling forced to make a decision.

“Recognizing what it takes to be at the top of your game, and having done that for so long, the stresses and the pressures and the expectations,” he said, “countering that with continued growth in new and fun and exciting areas.”

Davis and White took up commentating, most recently at the U.S. Championships last month. White choreographed a program for one couple at nationals.

“We’re not missing out on so many of the wonderful things that ice dancing has to offer [by not competing], pretty much besides the grueling training and competition,” White said.

Both could also finish their undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan.

And White wants to devote more time to his marriage with 2006 Olympic silver medalist ice dancer Tanith White, a broadcaster for NBC Sports.

For now, the final image of Davis and White skating off competition ice was as the first American ice dance gold medalists in Sochi. More U.S. couples could replicate that success, but Davis and White will always be atop the list.

“The mantle of being the first, we proudly wear,” White said. “I don’t want to take away from it, but we did it on the back of everyone else. It was a group project.”

Davis and White have closely followed the ice dance scene in their break. They witnessed the rise of French couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, a comeback by Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir that White called “inspiring” and U.S. couples earn the last two world silver medals.

Last year, Virtue and Moir ribbed Davis and White, their former training partners, while on tour about possibly joining them in coming back.

“I think we would have fit in [the competitive landscape],” White said. “It’s not a question. It didn’t enter into our thought process. Not because we’re so supremely confident in our talent, but because if we were to come back, we know that we would have done so with the intention of giving it 110 percent, as we always did. For us, we know that if we can be as prepared as possible, then we’ll always have a shot do well.”

Even if they never compete again, Davis and White plan to stay very involved in figure skating, hoping to be at next year’s national championships and the PyeongChang Olympics in non-competitive capacities.

“We’re still absolutely in love with our sport,” Davis said. “We don’t take the opportunity lightly to be able to do what we love for a living.”

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White on TODAY

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Posted by Today Show on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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.

Last season, Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years.

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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