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

Danielle Perkins is first U.S. boxer to win world title in 3 years

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Danielle Perkins became the U.S.’ first world champion boxer in this Olympic cycle, taking the heavyweight crown in Russia on Sunday.

Perkins, a 37-year-old who played college basketball at George Mason and St. John’s, improved from bronze in 2018 to earn her first world title, blanking defending world champion Yang Xiaoli of China 5-0 in Sunday’s final.

Video of the bout is here.

Perkins was slated to fight Yang in the 2018 World semifinals but withdrew due to medical reasons, according to USA Boxing.

The heavyweight division is 81+kg, but the heaviest Olympic weight division is capped at 75kg.

The last American to earn a world title was Claressa Shields in 2016, before she repeated as Olympic champion in Rio and moved to the professional ranks.

The Olympic trials are in December in Louisiana, after which winners will fight internationally in early 2020 in bids to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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MORE: IOC strips Olympic status from boxing body AIBA

Brigid Kosgei shatters marathon world record in Chicago

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Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered a 16-year-old world record in the women’s marathon by 81 seconds, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:14:04 on Sunday.

Brit Paula Radcliffe had held the record of 2:15:25 set at the 2003 London Marathon. Kenyan Mary Keitany holds the female-only record of 2:17:01 from the 2017 London Marathon. Both Kosgei and Radcliffe, the only women to break 2:17, ran with men in their record races.

Radcliffe’s record was the longest-standing for the men’s or women’s marathon of the last 50 years.

Kosgei did it one day after Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub-two-hour marathon in a non-record-eligible event in Vienna. She won by a gaping 6 minutes, 47 seconds over Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh.

Kosgei, who won Chicago in 2018 and the London Marathon in April, came in highly favored. The 25-year-old tuned up with the fastest half-marathon ever by a woman (by 23 seconds) on Sept. 8 on a non-record-eligible course.

“2:10 is possible for a lady,” Kosgei said after Sunday’s record.

Jordan Hasay, the top U.S. woman in the field, stopped after feeling a sharp hamstring strain after two miles. Hasay, who was coached by Alberto Salazar before his ban in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency case, is one of several women in contention for the three Olympic spots at the Feb. 29 trials in Atlanta.

Kenyan Lawrence Cherono won the men’s race by one second over Ethiopian Dejene Debela in 2:05:45.

The U.S.’ top marathoner, Galen Rupp, dropped out around mile 23 after straining a calf around the sixth mile. Rupp, who was also coached by Salazar, was racing for the first time since the 2018 Chicago Marathon and Achilles surgery.

Mo Farah, the defending champion and four-time Olympic track gold medalist, finished eighth in 2:09:58. He also dropped from the leaders before the halfway point.

American Daniel Romanchuk and Swiss Manuela Schar won the wheelchair races.

Romanchuk, 21, repeated as champion. He has also won Boston London and New York City in the last year. Schar distanced decorated American Tatyana McFadden by 4:14, though McFadden did qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics with her runner-up finish (as did Romanchuk).

The fall major marathon season concludes with the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, featuring defending champions Mary Keitany and Lelisa Desisa and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

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MORE: Chicago Marathon results