Olympics: 'Simone Biles show' off to bumpy start in Tokyo

Simone Biles got the competition off to a flat start by flying off the mat with both feet at the end of one tumbling pass during her floor exercise. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - The Simone Biles show got under way at the Tokyo Games on Sunday (July 25), but it did not live up to advance billing as the American's Olympics campaign experienced a rocky start.

Biles was expected to launch an all-out assault on the podium and record books in Tokyo but might not even match her five-medal effort at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with the 24-year-old in danger of missing out on the finals of two individual apparatus, the beam and asymmetric bars.

By simple accounting alone, Biles is already one of the all-time greats as she owns a combined 30 Olympic and world championship medals. However, she was expected to cement her status with a gold medal bonanza in Tokyo.

She could still strike it rich with gold in the team, all-around and on the vault and floor exercise, but could also miss out on spots in the two other individual apparatus where she sits sixth (beam) and eighth (asymmetric bars) with two-of-five groups still to compete.

Only the top eight on each apparatus qualify for finals.

With no spectators allowed inside the Ariake Gymnastics Centre due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was very much a business-like effort by Biles and her American team mates. However, it was far from business as usual with a resurgent Russian team firing a warning shot.

Russia, competing in Tokyo as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) because the country was stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences, have not won the women's team title since the United Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but leads with a mark of 171.629, more than a full point clear of the U.S. with 170.562.

The US has won the team event in every Olympics and world championship since 2011.

The qualification round determines who will compete for the medals with eight countries advancing to the team final on Tuesday and the top 24 gymnasts, competing on all four apparatus, qualifying for Thursday's all-around competition.

Even without the presence of thousands of screaming fans, the spotlight in a near empty arena seldom strayed from Biles, who was the focus of attention each time she stepped up to a piece of equipment.

With zero energy in the building, Biles got the competition off to a flat start by flying off the mat with both feet at the end of one tumbling pass during her floor exercise. But such was the degree of difficulty of her routine, that even with the big error she still sat second behind only Vanessa Ferrari of Italy.

She finished with the top mark in the vault but could not find her best form on the beam and uneven bars.

Biles's marks, however, were still enough to but her top the all-around on 57.731 just ahead of team mate Sunisa Lee with 57.166.

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