NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Ragan Smith had a good seat for one of the most dominant Olympic gymnastics performances of all time last summer when the U.S. team led by Simone Biles overwhelmed the field on its way to the team gold medal.
Smith served as an alternate for the group that became known as "Final Five." The experience left the 16-year-old from Lewisville, Texas, intent on keeping the momentum going in 2017.
She's off to a good start. Smith recovered from an uncharacteristic miscue on balance beam to post the top score on floor exercise and win the American Cup on Saturday. She posted an all-around total of 56.099, nearly two points clear of Asuka Teramoto of Japan, in the first major international meet for the Americans since the Summer Games.
"I think it's a huge step for me just to compete at the first meet of 2017 after the Olympics," Smith said.
The win allowed her to join an exclusive group of American women who have won the invitation-only meet, including Biles, 2012 Olympic champion Gabby Douglas and 1991 world champion Kim Zmeskal Burdette, who also happens to be Smith's coach. Smith lead throughout but ran into a bit of trouble on beam when she lost her balance while trying to land a flip and hopped off. She hardly looked rattled, bouncing back from the mistake to score a 14.000 on floor exercise, easily the best of the night.
"Floor was a big one to me, especially not having her very best beam, which is her best event, but she really stuck with it and that was great," Zmeskal Burdette said.
Yul Moldauer, a sophomore at Oklahoma, pulled off an upset in the men's event. He edged 2016 Olympic all-around silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev of the Ukraine. Moldauer's all-around score of 85.931 was just clear of Verniaiev's 85.699. Akash Modi, a senior at Stanford who was an alternate for the 2016 men's Olympic team, finished third.
"Everything wasn't perfect and not exactly how I want it to be, but I stuck with it, fought through some bad parts and did exactly what I want to do," said Moldauer, who also won the Winter Cup earlier this year.
Verniaiev, who won the 2015 American Cup, blamed a poor performance on floor for the narrow loss. Verniaiev scored just 13.3 on floor, compared with Moldauer's 14.566.