Olympics: Gymnast Biles leads way for sensational Americans

Defending Olympic champions USA have shown themselves to be a force to be reckoned with as they breezed through qualifiers on August 7.
Defending Olympic champions USA have shown themselves to be a force to be reckoned with as they breezed through qualifiers on August 7. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Simone Biles showed the world why she is an Olympic champion-in-waiting as she and her American team-mates blew away the opposition by almost 10 points in women's gymnastics qualifying on Sunday.

The quintet of Biles, 2012 London Games all around gold medallist Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian showed why the Americans have been unbeatable as a team since 2011 when they racked up a total of 185.238 points.

While their challengers fell and stumbled their way through qualifying, the only blips for the Americans came when Douglas stepped out of bounds during the floor exercise and Raisman flapped her arms about to save herself from falling off the beam following a big wobble.

Though no-one could match the command performance of Biles and Co., Britain's Ellie Downie proved herself "a fighter" when she carried on after a horrific landing on her neck.

 

There was an audible gasp in the arena when Downie's tumbling run on the floor exercise ended with her clutching her neck after she suffered what she called "a crunch in my neck".

Despite being helped out of the arena to get medical attention, the 17-year-old was back in action 15 minutes later and executed two soaring vaults to provisionally leave Britain fourth in qualifying.

"It was very scary and a shock to the system. Ellie's a fighter for coming back," summed up elder sister Becky, who earned the team's highest score of 15.233 on the asymmetric bars.

On Sunday's showing, China's hopes of regaining the Olympic team title they relinquished to the USA in 2012 may end up being a mere pipe dream after a series of shaky performances left them second in qualifying with 175.279 points.

Unless they iron out the wobbles and flaws that marred Sunday's routines, China could be left off the team podium for the second Games running.

Russia, the 2012 silver medallists, stood third with a total of 174.620.

Uzbek Oksana Chusovitina, a member of the 1992 gold medal Unified Team and at 41 the oldest ever gymnast to compete at an Olympics, will face a long wait to discover if her average vault score of 14.999 is good enough to make the eight-woman final.

Nerves appeared to get the better of 16-year-old Olympic debutantes Wang Yan and Mao Yi of China. Wang was lucky not to fall off the balance beam as she almost lost her footing after a back somersault and her score of 14.100 was China's lowest on the apparatus.

Mao fared no better with her floor exercise. She landed out of bounds into the dark green area following her first tumbling run, put a hand down and then rolled on to her knee after the second tumbling combination and botched her landing on the third. A score of 11.700 reflected her flop show.

Shang Chunsong's vault also went awry, drawing 12.766.

"Everyone is a little bit nervous because we want to compete in the finals. We can do better," admitted Shang, who feared she might not make it to Rio after being laid low with fever. "We just need to enjoy the process. If you enjoy what you do, then the results will be good."

Although none of Sunday's scores will be carried through to the team final, there will be no room for error on Tuesday. In qualifying, four competitors from each country compete on each apparatus with only the top three scores counting towards the total. In the final, each nation will put forward three athletes and all three scores will count.