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Ragan Smith leads U.S. women in gymnastics worlds qualifying

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MONTREAL — With words of advice from Aly Raisman, four U.S. women began the new Olympic cycle by qualifying for world gymnastics championships finals Wednesday night.

“She texted all of us today, we were in a group chat,” said Ragan Smith, who qualified second into Friday’s all-around final at the 1976 Olympic Stadium. “She said have fun, show off, just do what you do in training and trust your training.”

It helped.

“It always helps,” said Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate. “At Olympic Trials, whenever I was there, she always calmed me down and stuff and cheered for me. She was the leader of the five girls [captain of the Olympic team]. She always helped every single one of us.”

Smith and Morgan Hurd led the way Wednesday, qualifying second and sixth into the all-around final.

WORLDS: All women’s finals qualifiers

Smith, the U.S. all-around champion in August, fell off the balance beam but was otherwise fairly clean. She also had the top floor exercise score.

Smith scored 55.932 overall, one thousandth of a point behind Japanese leader Mai Murakami.

“I had a few mistakes, but pretty good,” Smith said. “I don’t really care about the scores right now.”

Hurd, who was sixth at the P&G Championships in August while coming back from elbow surgery, scored 54.832.

She also qualified second into the balance beam final but put her knee down on a floor exercise pass. She beamed afterward.

“It’s a big, glowing orb inside me,” said Hurd, a 16-year-old in her first year a senior gymnast.

Everyone starts from zero in the finals.

Ashton Locklear, also an Olympic alternate, and Jade Carey, in her first year as an elite gymnast, made the eight-woman uneven bars and vault finals Saturday, respectively. 

Carey also qualified third into Sunday’s floor final with Smith, while Hurd is in the beam final.

The Americans, with no Olympic experience, are competing against a new international field.

Zero Rio Olympic champions are in the finals, with most of the gold medalists taking the year off, including every member of the Final Five.

Romanian Larisa Iordache, perhaps the closest woman to a rival to Simone Biles in the last Olympic cycle, tore her Achilles in warm-up and withdrew.

Iordache entered as a co-favorite with Smith. Smith competed a few hours after Iordache and was unaware that her biggest threat was already out.

Now, Smith has an even greater chance of extending the U.S. run of Olympic and world all-around titles dating to 2011 (Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles).

Locklear, who was edged out for an Olympic spot by Madison Kocian, scored 14.566 on uneven bars.

She qualified sixth into that final, which includes China’s Fan Yilin, who was part of a four-way tie for gold in 2015.

On vault, Carey soared on her Amanar, taking one big step on the landing, and averaged 14.849 for the two vaults.

Only one woman outscored her in qualifying, reigning world champ Maria Paseka of Russia.

Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, who last year became the oldest female Olympic gymnast ever at 41, was the eighth and last qualifier into the vault final.

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Morgan Hurd left off U.S. gymnastics team for world championships

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Simone Biles is joined on the U.S. team for the world gymnastics championships by five women bidding to make their first Olympic team next year.

Sunisa LeeKara EakerJade Carey, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner were named to the team at the conclusion of selection camp competition Monday in Sarasota, Fla. Biles locked up the first spot by winning an all-around competition on Sunday.

A notable omission was Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion in Biles’ absence who was fourth in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August and ninth at the selection camp on Sunday. Hurd, who came back from December elbow surgery, was named a non-traveling alternate along with Leanne Wong.

Had Hurd made the team, she could have bid to join Biles as the only women to earn all-around medals at three straight world championships. Instead, her absence is a testament to the U.S. women’s depth.

The Americans won every Olympic or world team title dating to 2011, the longest reign of dominance since Soviet teams of the 1970s. Last year, their margin of victory — 8.766 points — was the largest in history at an Olympics or worlds.

A look at the six women on this year’s team, one of which will be designated an on-site alternate at worlds in Stuttgart, Germany:

Simone Biles
Undefeated in all-around competitions for six years, Biles will break more records in Stuttgart. The biggest one is career world championships medals. Biles is at 20, tied with Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. The overall record is 23, held by retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo. Last year, Biles became the first gymnast to earn medals in every event at worlds in 31 years and won the all-around by a record margin despite two falls and a kidney stone.

Sunisa Lee
The revelation of this summer. Lee went from third in the junior division at last year’s nationals to second to Biles both at nationals in August and in Sunday’s selection competition. At the latter, Lee was only .35 of a point behind Biles, closer than any of Biles’ last five margins of victory at nationals. She is the national champion on uneven bars and the youngest woman on the team at 16.

Kara Eaker
Eaker solidified her spot by placing third at the selection camp with a score that would have been runner-up to Biles on either day at nationals. Eaker was 10th at nationals with scores more than two points lower than what she did on Sunday. She is a medal contender on balance beam. Eaker had the second-highest beam score in qualifying at worlds last year but fell off the apparatus in the final, placing sixth.

Jade Carey
The 2017 World silver medalist on floor and vault. Carey decided last year to try to make the Olympic team on her own individually — a new wrinkle in Olympic qualifying this cycle — which precluded her from competing at the 2018 Worlds. She’s well on her way to clinching an Olympic spot before June’s trials, but first she will be an asset to this team as its second-ranked floor and vault gymnast behind Biles.

MyKayla Skinner
The 2016 Olympic alternate pulled off the rare feat of making a world team while being an NCAA gymnast (at Utah). Skinner returned to elite gymnastics this season for the first time since Rio and impressed Sunday, placing fourth in the all-around. Like Carey, she specializes on floor and vault.

Grace McCallum
McCallum was third in the all-around at nationals and sixth at the selection camp. The 2018 World team member is best known for her floor, too. She was seventh in qualifying at 2018 Worlds on the event but missed the final due to the two-per-country rule.

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Tommie Smith, John Carlos part of U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame class

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos are part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class that will be inducted later this year.

The sprinters were sent home from the 1968 Mexico City Games after staging a protest by raising their gloved fists on the medals stand. They were long left on the sidelines at the USOPC, but the federation has worked to bring them back inside the family in recent years.

“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos said, according to USA Today. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.'”

The class will be inducted at a ceremony in Colorado Springs on Nov. 1. It will be the first class inducted since 2012.

The rest of the class: Candace Cable, Erin Popovich, Chris Waddell (Paralympics), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Nastia Liukin (gymnastics), Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball), Apolo Anton Ohno (short track speedskating), Dara Torres (swimming), the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team), Ron O’Brien (diving coach) and Tim Nugent (special contributor).

After the Hall of Fame essentially stalled out, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland pushed to revive it as part of a federation effort to focus more on athletes.

“We thank them for their impact on sport and society, and for continuing to inspire the next generation of athletes and fans,” Hirshland said.

The induction of Smith and Carlos is long overdue. After being kicked out of the 1968 Olympics for their iconic raised-fist protest on the medals stand, the sprinters were left on the sideline of the official U.S. Olympic movement. Their 2016 visit to the White House, along with USOPC leaders, marked the first official event they’d been part of since their ouster in 1968.

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