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U.S. Olympic curling trials preview, broadcast schedule

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John Shuster, the most experienced U.S. Olympic men’s curler in history, is actually the youngest male skip at the Olympic Trials that begin Saturday.

He’s also older than everybody in the women’s trials field — by at least five years.

The two trials tournaments in Omaha are a study in contrast. The results will be similar — one men’s team champion and one women’s team champion will become Olympic team members next week.

Every day of competition will stream live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting with the first matches Saturday at 2 p.m. ET (full schedule here). NBCSN will air coverage of the finals Nov. 16, 17 and 18 (if necessary).

Five men’s teams and three women’s teams play round-robin action from Saturday through Wednesday. The top two on each side make the best-of-three finals, with the winner headed to PyeongChang in February.

Shuster, a 35-year-old with bartending experience, is trying to become the second American to curl at four Olympics.

He earned bronze as a role player in 2006 (the only U.S. Olympic curling team to make the podium). Shuster then led the 2010 and 2014 teams to forgettable performances — 0-4 before being benched in Vancouver, then 2-7 overall in Sochi.

But Shuster’s new team with Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and one Sochi holdover in John Landsteiner qualified to represent the U.S. at the last three worlds.

They were fourth, third and fifth at those championships, marking the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s results at that level in a decade.

Clearly, they are the favorites in Omaha after going undefeated at nationals last season.

But 41-year-old Heath McCormick skips a team slotted one spot behind Shuster in the world rankings (18th, 19th).

Brady Clark, a 40-year-old eyeing his first Olympic berth at his fourth trials, skips a team that swept Shuster and Co. in all three meetings at the 2016 U.S. Championships.

The most interesting team is led by Todd Birr, the oldest athlete in Omaha at 49 years old and potentially the oldest U.S. Winter Olympic competitor in 70 years.

Birr, the head ice maker at Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minn., competed in the first U.S. Olympic curling trials in 1998 and skipped the 2007 national champion team that earned bronze at worlds.

That was the most recent U.S. medal at an Olympics or worlds until Shuster’s bronze in 2016.

Though Birr reached the 2017 U.S. Championships finals, he has the lowest world rank in the men’s field — 51st, more than 20 spots behind everyone else.

Just three teams in the women’s field. All 12 women are from Minnesota or Wisconsin. All are 30 years and younger.

A stark contrast from the 2014 Olympic team that had women ages 40, 41 and 45 (and finished last, just as the 2010 team).

There is reason to believe the team that emerges next week will outperform the last three U.S. Olympic teams that combined to go 5-22 at the Games.

Nina Roth, a 29-year-old nurse, skips a team that finished fifth at last season’s world championships.

Jamie Sinclair, a 25-year-old born in Anchorage and raised in Ontario, leads a foursome that beat Roth at last season’s nationals. Roth was better over the course of the season, so Sinclair didn’t go to worlds.

Then there is Cory Christensen‘s team, the bulk of which won the 2016 World junior silver medal. All ages 22 and 23. They would be the youngest U.S. Olympic curling team ever. But they are also ranked No. 31 in the world, while Roth and Sinclair are 12th and 15th.

Many of the athletes competing next week are also entered in next month’s Olympic Trials for mixed doubles curling, a new Olympic event. One duo will qualify for PyeongChang.

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Curling Olympic Trials Schedule

WATCH LIVE: Simone Biles returns to U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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Simone Biles‘ comeback continues at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Friday night.

Biles enters her second meet since the Rio Olympics, where she earned four gold medals.

She is a clear favorite to win her fifth U.S. all-around title, which would break the record she currently shares.

LIVE STREAM: U.S. Gym Championships — 8 p.m. ET (for Olympic Channel subscribers)

Biles showed her comeback was for real at her first meet back three weeks ago, winning the U.S. Classic despite an uneven bars fall. Her all-around score was the highest in the world since Rio.

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of Biles’ first national title, when she was a braces-wearing, first-year senior gymnast oozing with talent but also unproven. She became so dominant that the prevailing notion was that everyone else was competing in a non-Simone division.

A new generation of women go up against Biles in the two-day meet that concludes Sunday.

That includes Ragan Smith and Morgan Hurd, who won the U.S. and world all-around titles in Biles’ absence last year, and Riley McCusker, who led the U.S. Classic going into the final rotation.

Gymnasts are competing to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Ragan Smith defends U.S. gymnastics title, competing through pain

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BOSTON — When Ragan Smith won the U.S. all-around title last August, her margin of victory was greater than Simone Biles‘ average the previous four years.

At the world championships in October, Smith fell off the balance beam in qualifying and still posted the second-highest all-around score, just .001 off the lead. If Smith hit all four routines in the final, she would be crowned the world’s greatest gymnast of 2017 (during Biles’ break from the sport).

But as the all-around final began at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Smith crutched out of the training gym. She suffered three torn left ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault, according to the Dallas Morning News, that needed four to five months to heal.

Smith is expected to compete in the all-around at the U.S. Championships on Friday and Sunday (broadcast schedule here), looking to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

The ankle still hurts sometimes. So do her three or four broken toes. Smith doesn’t know the exact number because she doesn’t like to get medical check-ups before meets. She would think too much about the diagnosis.

In fact, Smith said she felt pain in practice every day for the last year.

“Everything starts hurting worse because we’re getting older,” said Smith, who turned 18 last week. Smith added that a coach joked to her recently, “You already have a 100-year-old body.” 

“Everybody I feel like has injuries here and there,” she said. “Everybody’s like banged up right now. We [gymnasts] are so strong mentally and physically that I feel like we push through it.”

Back home in the Dallas area, Smith marks her goals on a dry-erase board. The chief one for her two summer meets is this: Be the best Ragan I can be.

“That’s all I’m really striving for this competition,” she said Wednesday.

Smith did not do the all-around at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago, skipping floor exercise because she wants to debut it as a surprise this week. She called Classic “a practice run,” where her best result was third on beam.

Only two gymnasts per nation can compete in a world all-around final. If Biles is one of them, then Smith has to beat out Morgan Hurd (who won the 2017 World all-around title after Smith’s injury) and Riley McCusker (second to Biles at the U.S. Classic).

Smith, the youngest Rio Olympic alternate, is determined to compete on the elite level through 2020. She can take motivation from her bedroom wall and that dry-erase board, both of which had the same quote posted — “She believed she could so she did.”

“These coming up years, it’s definitely who’s in the game the longest. It’s definitely who’s not injured,” she said. “That’s pretty much who they pick, I feel like. You’re training your whole life for one year of gymnastics because that’s when you have to be at your highest peak. I definitely feel like it’s who’s in the game the longest and who can survive and who can help their body the best.”

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