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.

P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates

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

Olympic cycling champion faces army reprimand for bare-bottom White House photo

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Olympic cycling champion Nino Schurter faces being reprimanded by the Swiss Army after posting a photo on social media showing his bare bottom with the White House in the background.

The army confirmed details reported in Swiss media that the 33-year-old mountain biker faces a possible warning from his senior officers over the incident this month, though any disciplinary action will not be announced.

The Rio gold medalist and record eight-time world champion is supported in his career by Switzerland’s military.

Schurter was on service duty between races in the United States two weeks ago when he posted a photo on Instagram with three team colleagues all dropping their pants while facing the White House.

The photo, since deleted but viewable here, was tagged to President Donald Trump and included the message “white (peach emoji) for the White House.”

The Swiss Army says it did not want to make a scandal of the incident, and Schurter had apologized to his commanding officer. He told Swiss media taking the photo had been spontaneous and he loved being in the U.S.

Schurter is the current Swiss sportsman of the year, beating tennis great Roger Federer into second place in December in a public vote.

MORE: World Road Cycling Championships TV Schedule

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2019 World Road Cycling Championships TV, live stream schedule

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The World Road Cycling Championships begin Sunday in Yorkshire, Great Britain. Every race streams live for NBC Sports Gold “Cycling Pass” subscribers.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBCSN also air TV coverage of the eight-day championships.

Look for a possibly wide-open men’s time trial on Wednesday given 2017 champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands is out after missing the Tour de France with a knee injury. Australian Rohan Dennis, last year’s winner, is a bit of an unknown after quitting the Tour de France in a dispute with his team.

Slovakian Peter Sagan looks to reclaim the road race on the final day on Sept. 29. Sagan won three straight titles before 39-year-old Alejandro Valverde of Spain took last year’s event on a climber’s course.

Dutch women swept the time trial and road race titles the last two years. They’re once again led by Anna van der Breggen, the reigning Olympic and world road race champion, and Annemiek van Vleuten, who recovered from her head-first Rio Olympic crash to win the last two world time trials.

But look out for another Dutch veteran, Marianne Vos, a 32-year-old having a resurgent season. The London Olympic road race champ seeks her first world medal since the tail end of her single-day road dominance in 2013.

The U.S. roster is led by Amber Neben, who won her second time trial world title in 2017 at age 42, and Chloe Dygert Owen, the 22-year-old track world champion who wants to make the Olympic team in both disciplines.

The American men feature Chad Haga, who won the final-stage time trial at the Giro d’Italia in June, and fellow Tour de France veterans Brent Bookwalter and Lawson Craddock.

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MORE: Chris Froome: Pre-Tour de France crash like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ scene

Date Event Time (ET) Network
Sept. 22 Team Time Trial Mixed Relay 8:10 a.m. Streaming
5:30 p.m.* Olympic Channel
Sept. 23 Women’s Junior Individual Time Trial 5 a.m. Olympic Channel
Men’s Junior Individual Time Trial 8:30 a.m. Olympic Channel
Sept. 24 Men’s U23 Individual Time Trial 5 a.m. Olympic Channel
Women’s Individual Time Trial 9:30 a.m. Olympic Channel
Sept. 25 Men’s Individual Time Trial 8 a.m. Olympic Channel
Sept. 26 Men’s Junior Road Race 7 a.m. Olympic Channel
Sept. 27 Women’s Junior Road Race 3:30 a.m. Olympic Channel
Men’s U23 Road Race 9 a.m. Olympic Channel
Sept. 28 Women’s Road Race 5:40 a.m. Streaming
2:30 p.m.* Olympic Channel
Sept. 29 Men’s Road Race 3:30 a.m. Olympic Channel
10 p.m.* NBCSN

*Same-day delayed broadcast.