Russians overtake Biles and US in preliminary phase

TOKYO (AP) – The problems started early. A step off the line on the floor drill here, an extra jump on the colt there.

And, for two hours on Sunday, they kept piling up, undermining the aura carved out by American gymnastics over the past decade. Not even the greatest of all time was immune to the realities of a sport where perfection is unattainable.

For 11 years, American women have flirted with her, competitively at least, traveling the world and returning home with suitcases full of gold.

This could also happen in Tokyo. But for the first time in a long time, it seems like it won’t happen without having to fight for it.

To the general amazement, Russia performed an excellent preliminary phase and received the best score, 171,629, more than one point more than the 170,562 of the Americans.

Although reigning Olympic champion Simone Biles led the competition and her partner Sunisa Lee was second, for the first time since the 2010 World Cups, the United States saw another name above theirs in the team standings.

“This was not the final,” said Tom Forster, the US team’s high-performance coordinator. “This is to get to the final. So it could be a big warning for us and we will take advantage of it.”

Faced with an almost empty Ariake Gymnastics Center, not even Biles was immune from mistakes.

The 24-year-old gymnast had the highest score with 57,731 and advanced to the final on various apparatus, but it was not easy. He came off the mat after a somersault on his floor exercise, then did much the same on the rack. He responded with a solid workout on the uneven bars, but finished a spectacular beam routine by taking three big steps back after coming down, something that, according to Forster, he had never done before.

Biles, who came to Japan as the United States Olympic benchmark, stepped out to the judges and left with a smile that drew a mixture of relief, sarcasm and frustration.

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