'Here, it’s like family to me': Ragan Smith the latest elite gymnast to join Sooners
Ragan Smith grew up dreaming of Olympic glory.
The gold medal hanging around her neck. The national anthem playing. The celebration.
Smith started chasing that dream — though not consciously then — at 2 years old, when her mother, Kerry, started her in a mommy-and-me gymnastics class. Ragan planned on chasing that Olympic dream to this summer’s games in Tokyo, but her body wouldn’t allow it.
“Training a lot of hours in elite is really hard,” Smith said. “We train 37 hours a week at Texas Dreams (her home program in the Dallas area).
“It’s just really hard on your body and I’ve been doing that since I was 10 years old, so it’s just been a lot.”
With her Olympic career behind her, Ragan Smith is embarking on another journey as the latest star to join OU’s gymnastics program. Smith begins her collegiate career with the Sooners on Saturday in the Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim, California.
The Sooners are the defending national champion and enter this season at the top of the rankings.
While Smith didn’t get a chance to compete in the Olympics, she did make the 2016 team as an alternate, traveling to Brazil and taking in the Olympic experience.
“I would never forget that,” Smith said. “It’s one-of-a-kind. It was just amazing — seeing Brazil, training there, watching the Olympics live.”
But the injuries piled up in 2017 — back, ankle and shin ailments at various times.
Smith had been committed to the Sooners since she was a high school freshman, but she wasn’t sure when she would join the team.
It wasn’t until this summer when Smith finally decided to pick up the phone and tell OU coach K.J. Kindler that she planned to join the team this season.
“I definitely miss it, but I feel like it’s time for me to move on,” Smith said of ending the Olympic pursuit. “I’ve never regretted my decision.”
In Oklahoma, Smith found a program that closely mirrored the atmosphere of elite gymnastics without the wear-and-tear of elite training.
“I looked at other schools and I didn’t really feel like I fit in there,” Smith said. “Here, it’s like family to me.
“This is more disciplined vs. other ones. … The coaches are different. We’re here to win so we’re striving to do everything we can to do that.”
Smith has spent the last few months working on a new set of routines that fits in with college competitions.
The skills are technically easier than what she was doing in elite but still require plenty of work as they can also be more varied.
“Ragan is lightning in a bottle,” Kindler said in a release when Smith signed with OU. “When she competes, the room stops. Her floor performances are loaded with charisma and are some of my all-time favorite to watch.”
Smith is making the most of her transition.
“At first it was hard but then I realized I’m going to the No. 1 college team in gymnastics,” Smith said. “I got here and I completely forgot about it.
“I feel like I’ve turned the page pretty well.”
Teams: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 UCLA, No. 9 Cal, No. 22 Stanford
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.