TOKYO — The U.S. women's gymnastic team took the mat for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics, and a few stumbles – including from star Simone Biles – allowed Russia's team to take the lead.
Russia came out one point ahead in the total team score – 171.62 to 170.56. Biles faced multiple penalties but still posted the top score of the day so far.
The U.S. team came into the competition as the heavy favorite, and its star Simone Biles is widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time. For the U.S to not be in the lead at the end of the qualifier is very unexpected.
"I feel we did a pretty good job. Obviously there are little things we need to work on, so we'll go back and practice and work on that, just so we can do our best performance at team finals, because that's what matters," Biles told reporters.
Tom Forster, a coordinator for the U.S. team, acknowledged after the competition that it was a challenging start for the team.
"We had great performances today, and some not-so-great ones. But the errors that we made I think are mental, because the girls have been training incredibly well," he said. Forster chalked up the mistakes to nerves.
The qualifiers on Sunday determine the gymnasts going to the team finals, individual all-around finals, and the finals for each apparatus.
The U.S. will start with a clean slate at the team final on Tuesday — qualifying scores do not carry over into the final competition.
Sunisa Lee, an 18-year-old from Minnesota who is a contender to medal in the individual all-around competition, particularly dazzled in the uneven bars – one of her best events. She is second in the all-around standings, behind Biles and ahead of Russia's Angelina Melnikova.
Biles stepped off the mat twice by mistake – in the floor exercise and in one of her vaults – resulting in penalties. Because of the degree of difficulty and her execution, she still brought in scores higher than each of the rest of the U.S. gymnasts in those two events.
On uneven bars, Biles' least favorite event and one where Lee excels, her teammate outscored her. Lee also narrowly received a higher score on the balance beam.
Biles recently debuted a move no other female gymnast has ever pulled off in competition due to its difficulty – the Yurchenko double pike vault. She did not perform it today, though she has said that she'd like to do it during the Tokyo Olympics.
Jade Carey, who is competing as an individual, had particularly strong performances in both the floor and individual competitions. She came in narrowly behind Biles in both and appears poised to move on to the finals in the single event competitions.
Forster praised the performance of the team from Russia. "What a transformation they've made since 2019," he said. "They're way deeper, they were cleaner...yeah, they did really well."
Like other events in Tokyo, women's gymnastics – one of the most popular Olympic sports for fans – kicked off with nearly empty stands. Strict coronavirus measures mean that only journalists and people linked to teams or Olympic committees can watch in person. Team officials occasionally clapped in unison, trying to amp up the energy of the quiet venue.