Gymnastics

Simone Biles' Americans off to shaky start in gymnastics, Canadians miss team final

The ROC posted the top team score of 171.629 through the first three subdivisions of Olympic gymnastics at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, the first time in more than a decade the Americans failed to finish atop the standings during any portion of a major international event.

Shallon Olsen bright spot for Canada, finishing 6th in artistic vault event

American Simone Biles competes on balance beam during women's qualification on Sunday in Tokyo. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The routines Simone Biles puts together are so difficult she can afford a misstep or two and still dominate.

The country she represents? Maybe not so much anymore.

While the reigning Olympic gymnastics champion began her quest for a repeat by topping qualifying on Sunday, the four-woman U.S. team looks to have a serious fight on its hands if it wants to claim a third straight crown.

The Russian Olympic Committee team posted the top team score of 171.629 at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, the first time in more than a decade that the Americans failed to finish atop the standings during any portion of a major international event.

The U.S. team finished second in qualifying with a score of 170.562.

China had the third best score with 166.863.

WATCH | Simone Biles dominates, while Canadians Black, Olsen and Moors advance to finals:

Simone Biles dominates, while Canadians Black, Olsen and Moors advance to finals

2 months ago
1:36
The American gymnastics superstar topped the field in qualification, with Canadians Ellie Black, Shallon Olsen and Brooklyn Moors advancing to the finals in individual events. 1:36

Olsen, Black, Moors qualify for individual events finals

Canada posted a team score of 160.964, sitting in eighth at the time and seemed poised to squeak in to the team final.

But hours later, in the last subdivision of the day, Germany and Belgium both bumped the Canadians out of contention, knocking Canada down to a 10th-place finish.

There were a few bright spots for the Canadians in individual events, however.

Shallon Olsen of Surrey, B.C., finished in sixth place in the vault event, qualifying for the finals with a score of 14.699.

Though she hasn't competed with the Canadian team in the past year, she's been competing with the University of Alabama in the NCAA this past season.

"Today was a little bit stressful for me. I haven't competed for over a year with this team, and just being back out there on the big stage is just something I wanted to take in and enjoy," Olsen said in a press release.

"It was obviously a little bit different not having the crowd there, but I think the cheerfulness and excitement kept me going this whole time and I know my teammates had my back throughout the whole meet and I'm really, really grateful for that."

Halifax's Ellie Black finished sixth in the balance beam event to qualify for the finals. She also finished 12th in the vault, and 24th in the individual all-around event. 

Meanwhile Brooklyn Moors, of Cambridge, Ont., finished 15th in floor exercise, and 22nd in the individual all-around event.
Canada's Ellie Black in action on the balance beam on Sunday. She finished 13th in the artistic floor exercise event and 18th in the individual all-around event. (Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)

Both Black and Moors will be in the individual all-around final on Thursday.

"Today was a bit of a rough go, but there were also some really good things that happened," Black said in the release.

"It's really tough coming into the Olympics after a year and a half of not competing in person, so for us, I think it was really just about getting out there and showing what we can and trying our absolute best, which we did and I'm proud of us."

Biles tumbles to lead

While Biles leads the all-around with a total of 57.731, it didn't come easy. She stepped all the way off the mat following a tumbling pass on her floor exercise, then basically did the same on vault. She responded with a solid set on uneven bars, but a spectacular beam routine ended with her taking three major steps backward following her dismount.

The 24-year-old who came to Japan as the face of the U.S. Olympic movement saluted the judges with a wry smile, then walked off the podium with a smile that looked like a combination of relief, sarcasm and frustration.

There was a lot to go around.

Jordan Chiles' remarkably consistent run that carried her to a spot on the four-woman team ended with a major mistake on bars and a fall on beam. Sunisa Lee overcame a so-so performance on floor to surge into second behind Biles with an electric bar routine.

The Americans arrived in Tokyo riding a decade-long winning streak, one fuelled in large part by Biles' unmatched brilliance. Her routines are packed with so much difficulty, it often becomes a matter of math.

WATCH | How Simone Biles' new move will change gymnastics:

How Simone Biles' new move will change gymnastics

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CBC Sports commentator and Olympic champion Kyle Shewfelt explains how Simone Biles landing the Yurchenko double pike changes the Olympic playing field. 8:10

For the first time in a long time, when the numbers were added up, the Americans found themselves looking up in the standings at someone else.

ROC's performance's offered proof that the former gymnastics superpower is in the midst of a resurgence led by 21-year-old Angelina Melnikova. Even better, the Russians survived the balance beam relatively unscathed.

Russia's Angelina Melnikova competes in the artistic gymnastics balance beam event. The Russian Olympic Committee team posted the top team score of 171.629 through the first three subdivisions. (Martin Bureau/Agence France Presse via Getty Images)

The four-inch piece of wood set four feet off the ground has been the place where the country's gold-medal hopes have gone to die in recent years, yet there were no major issues during qualifying. The only major miscue came when Lilia Akhaimova fell off during the end of an acrobatic series.

No biggie. The Russians were allowed to drop her score. Things will be different in the finals, when the meet goes to a "three up/three count" format in which there is no margin for error. While Melnikova stressed that she was not going to forecast what might happen on Tuesday, she does believe what once was a walkover for the Americans will turn into something far more compelling.

"We hope that [we win]," Melnikova said. "We're also going to struggle and fight. We have to. That's the expectation for us."

And for the first time since the 2010 world championships, it suddenly looks doable.

WATCH | Ellie Black's career timeline: From Halifax to history books:

Ellie Black's Career Timeline: From Halifax to the history books

8 months ago
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One of the greatest gymnasts in Canadian history; a lookback on her storied career. 0:52

With files from CBC Sports

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