Ragan Smith delivers in first U.S. championship title win

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Ragan Smith that earned a spot as an alternate to the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team last summer got by on precision, precociousness and more than a dash of charm.

That girl is gone. A more mature, more professional version has emerged over the last 12 months. The proof came just before Smith’s final rotation on balance beam at the P&G Championships on Sunday night.

Firmly in the lead and needing only to avoid disaster to finish atop the podium, Smith did something unusual. She got quiet. No pestering coach Kim Zmeskal Burdette. No singing Justin Bieber songs to take her mind off the moment. Instead, the 17-year-old took a few deep breaths and finished what she started.

“She stopped asking questions,” Zmeskal Burdette said. “I don’t know. It’s like a different look in her face. That’s the goal to get her to that.”

Consider Smith there. Polished and poised from her more sophisticated floor routine to her still-evolving beam set, Smith finished with a two-round total of 115.25, more than three points clear of Jordan Chiles in second place and Riley McCusker in third.

Smith entered the meet as the standard bearer for the women’s program with the Final Five taking a break. Rather than be rattled by the pressure, she thrived in it. Even though she seized a 1.3-point lead after the first day of competition Friday, she knew it wasn’t anywhere hear her best. She was considerably sharper less than 48 hours later, her 57.85 total on the final day was the best in the 16-woman all-around field by nearly two points.

“I just thought I had to go full out,” Smith said. “No regrets.”

And for the moment, no challengers in the U.S. and perhaps the world. Smith is a lock for the four-woman team for October’s world championships in Montreal. She will enter as one of the all-around favorites.

An American woman has won the world or Olympic title each of the last six years. Barring injury, Smith should be right there.

It’s a stark difference from last summer when she came from out of nowhere to nearly land an Olympic spot. No longer. She’s the one in the spotlight at the moment for the most dominant women’s program on the planet, a position she’s hardly shying away from.

“I feel like she likes this role,” Zmeskal Burdette said.

It certainly looks that way. Smith has ditched “The Addams Family” themed floor routine she used in 2016 for something a little more adult. It’s not the only part of her gymnastics that has grown up. Smith finished first on floor and beam and tied for third on bars, setting an example the rest of the field seemed to follow.

Women’s national team coordinator Valeri Liukin said he wasn’t alarmed following an uneven performance by the group at large Friday but admitted he wanted to see something a little crisper Sunday. He got it. Eight of the women in the top 10 improved from their scores Sunday, with Smith setting the tone.

“She pulled everybody up,” Liukin said. “I’m happy with what I see now. We just need a little more time to cook. We have the talent.”

Chiles slipped by McCusker into second thanks to a fabulous save on beam in which she turned a near disaster into something decidedly artful. Chiles was in the middle of “wolf turn” (basically spinning on one foot while in a crouch on a 4-inch wide piece of wood) when she nearly fell over. Instead she rose to her feet, kept rotating and went right into the next part of her routine as if it was planned all along.

“It was cool but kind of crazy,” Chiles said.

Chiles’ steadiness gives Liukin another option as he tries to put together the rest of the four-woman team that will join Smith in Montreal.

McCusker, only recently recovered from foot and wrist injuries, tried to keep the heat on Smith but stepped out of bounds following the last tumbling pass on her floor routine. Still, she finished first on bars, with her legs practically magnetized together as she elegantly made her way through her routine.

The world championships team won’t be revealed until after a selection camp in Texas next month. Smith doesn’t need to worry about her spot. It’s secure.

“She can step up and calculate better [with] her emotions,” Liukin said. “That’s what great athletes do. She’s getting there right now. This is her time.”

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2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens TV, streaming schedule

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The Rugby World Cup Sevens, held in the U.S. for the first time, airs live on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

NBC Sports’ TV coverage totals more than 30 live hours. NBC Sports Gold will also stream live, commercial-free coverage of every match with its “Rugby Pass.”

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will stream all NBC Sports and Olympic Channel TV coverage.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the biggest standalone competition outside of the Olympics for an event that debuted at the Rio Games. Traditional 15-a-side rugby was played at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years, now in the middle of every Olympic cycle, with men’s and women’s competitions at the same site.

New Zealand is the defending World Cup champion for men and women, though Fiji took the men’s Olympic title and Australia the women’s gold in Rio.

The U.S. finished fifth (women) and sixth (men) in this season’s World Series standings, though the U.S. men won the only World Series leg played in the U.S. in Las Vegas in March.

The U.S. men are led by Perry Baker, the 2017 World Player of the Year, and Carlin Isles, the 2018 World Series leader in tries. The U.S. women feature Naya Tapper and Rio Olympian Alev Kelter, two of the top scorers from the World Series.

The NBC Sports broadcast team includes U.S. Olympian and Super Bowl champion Nate Ebner as a studio analyst. Leigh Diffey and Bill Seward are on play-by-play, and Ahmed Fareed hosts on-site studio coverage.

Former USA Sevens captain Brian Hightower, U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame member Dan Lyle, former Premiership Rugby and English international prop Alex Corbisiero and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight will provide game and studio commentary.

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Day Time (ET) Network Coverage Highlights
Friday 1 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Men’s Qualifiers
4-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Qualifiers
7 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN Women’s Quarters/Men’s Round of 16
Saturday 12:25-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Women’s Semifinal 1
3-5 p.m. NBC Women’s Semifinal 2
5-6 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Challenge Quarters
6:30-11:30 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Quarters/Women’s Finals
Sunday 11:55 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl/Challenge Semifinals
2:30-5 p.m. NBC Men’s Semifinals
5-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl Finals
7-10 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Finals

Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union and the Kazah Olympic Committee confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.