For the first time in a long time, the U.S. women’s artistic gymnastics team looked beatable.
During the third subdivision of the qualification round, Team USA struggled to find its rhythm and showed signs of nerves that resulted in uncharacteristic mistakes.
The Americans still pieced together the second highest team score of qualifications so far with Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee finishing 1-2 in the all-around standings, but the squad was considered a lock for gold going into Tokyo. Their 170.562 was over a point behind the 171.629 posted by the Russian Olympic Committee.
It marks the first time since 2010 that the U.S. has not finished first in qualifications at a major international competition. 2010 was also the last time the U.S. did not win a team gold at the world championships or Olympics.
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From the beginning of the first rotation on floor exercise, Team USA looked shaky. Nearly every gymnast in the lineup struggled with landing their tumbling, and Simone Biles bounded completely off the mat on her third pass. Her score of 14.133 was high enough to put her in second behind the current leader, Italy's Vanessa Ferrari, but Biles was the clear favorite for gold on the event.
Jade Carey, who is competing as an individual specialist, is currently in third with a 14.1. Two subdivisions remain, but it is unlikely Biles or Carey will be bumped out of the top eight advancing to floor finals by any of the gymnasts competing later.
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On vault, Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles performed solid double-twisting Yurchenkos, but Biles’ did not perform to her usual standard. Her first vault, which counted toward the team total, was crooked, causing her to step off the landing mat. Her second attempt, which was required to be eligible for the vault final, was similar to the near-flawless execution fans are accustomed to seeing.
Despite the trouble on her first vault, Biles averaged a 15.183 to top the current vault standings. Carey is not far behind with a 15.166 average score after she nearly stuck her second vault, a two-and-a-half twisting skill known as the Amanar that Biles also performs. MyKayla Skinner’s average score of 14.866 placed her in third overall, but because of the two-per-country rule she will not advance to finals.
The uneven bars were a high point, especially for Lee who is currently atop the event leaderboard with a 15.2. She did not perform the most difficult version of her routine but may need to do so in finals if she wants to secure an individual gold medal.
Biles had a slight form break but completed her set without any major errors, scoring a 14.566 good enough to have her currently within the top eight on the event, while Chiles made her first major competitive mistake of the year. Up until this point, Chiles had hit every routine she performed in competition, but during a transition from the high to low bar she hit her feet on the floor.
Team USA concluded its qualification round on balance beam and had the added pressure of trailing the Russian Olympic Committee by .8. Chiles, who has been automatic on the event in domestic competitions this season, fell on her acrobatic series, and Biles stumbled backwards out of her dismount.
Lee posted Team USA’s highest score on the event with a 14.2. She and Biles, who scored a 14.066, are likely to advance to the event final. There is a chance Biles, who is currently in sixth on beam, may be pushed out by gymnasts competing in later subdivisions.
All scores will reset for team and individual finals, meaning that Team USA is still in position to capture multiple golds if they shake off the jitters and hit their remaining routines.