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Simone Biles seizes lead on Day 1 of US Olympic Trials ahead of Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee despite wobbly fifth-place performance on balance beam

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Simone Biles

 

The greatest gymnast of her generation wasn’t perfect on Day 1 of the US Olympic trials in Minneapolis, but she was still good enough to seize first place heading into Saturday’s Day 2.

 

Simone Biles

Simone Biles barely made it onto the balance beam and barely came away with a fifth-place performance in the event after nearly falling at several different points in her routine.

Regardless, Biles is now four rotations away from a third trip to the Olympics.

The list of contenders hoping to join her in Paris is thinning quickly.

While not at her unparalleled best, Biles had little trouble sprinting to the lead at the US Olympic trials on Friday. Her all-around score of 58.900 put her well ahead of good friend Jordan Chiles and in position to lock up an automatic berth on the five-woman team if she finds herself in the same position when the trials wrap up on Sunday.

Behind Biles, however, everything is on the table after leading contenders Shilese Jones and Kayla DiCello exited due to injuries.

DiCello, a 2020 Olympic alternate, tore the Achilles in her right foot when she stepped onto the vault springboard. Jones, a six-time world championship medalist, tweaked her knee during vault warm-ups. She returned to grit her way through an uneven bars routine before skipping balance beam and floor exercise. Her status for Sunday’s finals is uncertain.

The injuries – particularly to Jones, considered a lock if healthy – potentially opened the door for some Olympic veterans who have worked their way into the conversation.

Chiles, who helped the Americans win silver in Tokyo, appears to be rounding into form just in time. She finished in the top six on all four events, heady territory considering injuries slowed her training early in the year which appeared to dim her chances of an Olympic return.

Sunisa Lee, the 2020 Olympic champion who has spent most of the last two years battling kidney-related health issues, used a pair of excellent sets on uneven bars and balance beam in front of a hometown crowd to come in third.

So is Jade Carey, the reigning Olympic champion on floor exercise who finished fourth.

Biles, as she has for most of the last 11 years, stands alone.

The 27-year-old seven-time Olympic medalist, eyeing a return to the games after an eventful stay in Tokyo three years ago in which she removed herself from multiple finals to focus on her mental health, has looked as good as ever most of this year.

Friday night was an exception, at least by Biles’ standards. She grew visibly frustrated during an uncharacteristically sloppy balance beam routine, cursing shortly after sticking her dismount. Her score of 13.650 was only fifth best among the 13 competitors on an event where she is a four-time world champion and two-time Olympic medalist.

Biles also stepped out of bounds on her floor routine, a hazard considering the power she generated during tumbling passes that have redefined what’s possible in her sport. She ended on a high note nailing her signature Yurchenko Double Pike vault that drew a standing ovation. Her score of 15.975 was the highest of the night on any event by a wide margin and gave her plenty of breathing room heading into Sunday.

Not that she needed it. Biles could begin planning for a trip to France this summer long ago.

Jones, the top American gymnast not named Biles when healthy, hoped to join her.

That likely ended before the competition even officially began. The 21-year-old Jones – already nursing a slightly torn labrum in her right shoulder – had to be helped off the floor after landing awkwardly on the mat while warming up for vault.

She exited briefly but returned to be introduced. She skipped the vault in the first rotation but returned to grit through the uneven bars, her best event.

While Jones put together an excellent 14.625 even while doing a slightly watered-down routine, she gingerly made her way off the podium. She talked to medical staff for several minutes before pulling herself out of her final two rotations on balance beam and floor exercise.

Like Jones, DiCello was firmly in the mix when she arrived at Target Center.

DiCello left the University of Florida after her freshman year to return home to Maryland and focus on the Olympics. She won the Winter Cup early in the year but appeared to injure her right foot when she hit the springboard on vault.

DiCello bailed out of her original move and just did a back tuck, landing safely on the mat to protect herself. She was in tears when she was carried off the floor.

The exits of Jones and DiCello came two days after Skye Blakely, a strong runner-up to Biles at the US Championships earlier this month, ruptured her right Achilles tendon during training, ending the 19-year-old’s hope of making the team three years after she tore a ligament in her elbow during the first night of Olympic trials.

USA Gymnastics honored Blakely by introducing her in between rotations. Standing with crutches in her left hand, Blakely waved to the crowd while tears ran down her face during a lengthy and warm ovation.

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