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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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WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule | ScoresWomen to Watch | Men to Watch

Alysa Liu rallies to win Junior Grand Prix with another quadruple jump

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U.S. figure skating champion Alysa Liu landed a quadruple Lutz for a second straight Junior Grand Prix, rallying from fourth after the short program to win an event in Poland on Friday.

Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history at age 13, won both of her starts in her first season on the Junior Grand Prix to become the first U.S. woman to qualify for the six-skater Junior Grand Prix Final since 2013 (Polina Edmunds and Karen Chen). The Final is held with the senior Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, in December.

She won Friday by 6.63 points by surpassing a pair of Russians, a rarity in this era. Her free skate is here.

Liu trailed by 4.03 points after doubling a planned triple loop in the short program. She was the lone skater in the field to attempt a triple Axel (landing three of them, including two in combination and one with a negative grade of execution) or a quad.

Liu tallied 138.99 points in the free skate and 203.10 overall. She ranks sixth in the world this season by best total scores among junior and senior skaters, though some top skaters have yet to compete.

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MORE: 2019 Senior Grand Prix assignments

Rafaela Silva, first Brazilian gold medalist at Rio Olympics, claims innocence after positive drug test

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Rafaela Silva, the judoka who grew up in Rio’s most famously violent favela to become Brazil’s first gold medalist at the Rio Olympics, reportedly tested positive for a banned substance last month.

Silva tested positive for fenoterol, a substance that can be legal to treat asthma if an athlete has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). Silva did not have a TUE before testing positive at the Pan American Games in August, according to Brazilian media.

A possible punishment has not been announced.

Silva claimed innocence at a news conference Friday afternoon, saying that a young child with whom she had bodily contact at her training location used the substance, and she plans to compete at a domestic event this weekend, according to O Globo.

Silva, 27, backed up her Rio Olympic 57kg title by taking bronze at the world championships later in August. If she is punished for the positive test, Silva could lose that bronze medal, though she said Friday that she had a clean drug test at worlds, according to O Globo.

Silva, from Rio’s Ciadade de Deus favela, has the Olympic rings tattooed on her right bicep with the inscription “God knows how much I’ve suffered and what I’ve done to get here.”

Brazil’s top female swimmer, Etiene Medeiros, reportedly tested positive for fenoterol in May 2016 but was cleared to compete at the Rio Olympics.

In PyeongChang, Slovenian hockey player Ziga Jeglic tested positive for fenoterol and was scratched before his nation’s last game before it was announced. Jeglic was suspended from the Games and, later, was suspended eight months.

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