Ragan Smith takes center stage for U.S. gymnastics with Simone Biles watching


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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Even when she’s not competing, Simone Biles is still the center of attention.

The Olympic champion, whose four-year run of dominance was unlike anything gymnastics has ever seen, drew some of the loudest shrieks at the P&G Championships on Friday night with a brief appearance on the floor. Ragan Smith might be halfway to claiming her first U.S. title, but everyone knows it’s only on loan until Biles comes back.

Smith, one of the three alternates on last year’s Rio Olympic team, finished with 57.4 points, the highest all-around score in the world this year. Riley McCusker was 1.3 points behind, a significant gap going into Sunday’s finals.

The year after the Olympics is always one of transition, and this one is no different. Though Biles has said she plans to come back for the Tokyo Games in 2020, she wanted a break. She’d won everything there was to win — in addition to her all-around title and three other gold medals in Rio, she was the world champion for three years running and a four-time U.S. champ — and took the year to see what life was like outside the gym.

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That meant the “non-Simone division” that had long been a joke in the U.S. program actually meant something.

Smith was the favorite coming into the meet, having won the American Cup earlier this year. While she wasn’t perfect by any means, she’s clearly in a class by herself. She got great height on her tumbling passes, but it was the polish on the skills in between that set her apart.

She was cool and efficient on balance beam, and finished off her night with a solid vault.

While Smith dominated the seniors, it’s the juniors that bear watching. Maile O’Keefe (57.2) and Emma Malabuyo (57.05) both topped 57, scores that would have put them just behind Smith.

Follow Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.



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