ANAHEIM – One day before the most decorated team in the history of USA Gymnastics enters the Hall of Fame, the next generation was on display Friday night at the P&G Championships.
Simone Biles, in the building at Honda Center but not in a leotard, is contemplating her future along with the rest of the Final Five.
Ragan Smith is the future.
The alternate for the gold-medal winning team at the 2016 Olympics showed why she is the current face of a rebuilding program with an impressive performance to open the U.S. national championships.
Smith, 17, leads the all-around competition after becoming just the fourth women to post a score better than 57 this year in international gymnastics. Her 57.400 was comprised of event’s top scores in the floor exercise (14.200) and balance beam (14.500) and she sits in fourth place in the uneven bars and fifth in vault.
With her star rising since the 2016 Olympic frenzy died down, the P&G Championships mark Smith beginning to feel comfortable with her new position in the USA Gymnastics hierarchy.
“It kind of feels good knowing I’m kind of like the favorite,” Smith said. “I’m just taking every moment of it and loving it.”
Riley McCusker sits in second place in the all-around after posting the night’s top score on the uneven bars (14.550) and placing second only to Smith on the beam. Still recovering from a foot injury, the New Jersey teenager said her best is yet to come.
“I’m still doing a watered down vault and I still have a lot to add back in on beam, so I wasn’t really expecting much,” McCusker said. “I feel like I’m starting to get used to being on podium. I just am feeling more confident in what I can do.”
Ashton Locklear, who is expected to join Smith representing the U.S. at the World Championships in Montreal October 2-8, posted the third-highest score of the night on the uneven bars (14.350), but struggled on the beam, where she fell once during her routine before an unsteady landing on her dismount.
In addition to the debut of her new floor routine, Smith bounced back from a fall in training working on a new skill on the uneven bars to execute a solid routine, something she may not have handled as well before experiencing such growth over the last year.
“I’ve become a stronger and more mental gymnast,” Smith said. “So when things happen like that I have to reset my mind and breathe and just believe in myself.”
The Final Five – Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian – haven’t ruled out returning to make a run at the 2020 Olympics, but in the meantime they will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday and they will be honored on Sunday at the Honda Center.
With none of them in the field for the 2017 P&G Championships, this weekend marked the first time since 1895 that no Olympian from the previous year competed in the US national championships the following season.
In addition to the immediate outlook, the not-so-distant future of USA Gymnastics looks plenty bright. In the junior division, Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo posted scores that are impressive no matter their age.
Prior to Smith’s performance Friday evening, the U.S. junior national team members became just the second and third women to best a score of 57 this year.
O’Keefe, 15, delivered an all-around score of 57.200 and Malabuyo, 14, followed closely with a 57.050.
O’Keefe, of Las Vegas, posted the top score on the uneven bars (14.200) and placed second in each of the other three events. Malabuyo, of Flower Mound, Texas, posted the top score in floor exercise (14.250), placed second to O’Keefe on the uneven bars by a tenth of a point, finished third on the balance beam and fifth in vault.
There was a local presence at the P&G Championships where a trio of UCLA gymnasts sang the national anthem to open the event. Hallie Mossett and Alex Waller of the class of 2017 joined Christine Peng-Peng Lee, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility to compete for one more season at UCLA. The Bruins’ team finished fourth at the NCAA championships in April.
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