Simone Biles leads after first segment at U.S. Olympics gymnastics trials

Puffs of red, white and blue smoke erupted as each gymnast was introduced before the women’s competition at the U.S. Olympic trials, not that they needed a reminder that a nomination to Team USA for the Tokyo Games is at stake. Each tumble on the mat, each turn on the 4-inch-wide balance beam somehow made the one-year-delayed Olympics more real and inevitable, and the best of the best rose to the challenge Friday night.

Defending Olympic all-around champion Simone Biles, whose every move drew roars from the lively crowd in the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, held off an impressive effort by Sunisa Lee to lead the field after the first segment of the two-part competition. Biles, who performed one of the moves named after her — a double-flip, double-twist dismount from the balance beam — had 60.565 points, to 57.666 for Lee.

Jordan Chiles, an incoming UCLA freshman who trains with Biles at World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, was third with 57.132 points. Next was MyKayla Skinner, a 2016 Olympic alternate who competed for the University of Utah before returning to elite gymnastics, with a solid 56.598 points.

Biles performed a perfect triple-double (double backflip with three twists) during her floor exercise routine, and — unlike her overexuberant effort at the U.S. championships — she stayed inbounds. Her floor exercise score of 15.366 points was the best of the night. She also had the best balance beam score, 15.133. Lee had the top uneven bars score, 15.300.

Simone Biles competes Friday night on the balance beam. She had the best score in the event at 15.133.

(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Skye Blakely was injured while warming up for her vault and left the podium to get treatment. She was unable to compete, a sad mishap for the promising 16-year-old from Texas.

Two other incoming UCLA freshman, Emma Malabuyo and Emily Lee, stood ninth and tied for 11th, respectively.

The women’s competition will end Sunday. The top two finishers in the all-around standings will earn automatic nominations to the Tokyo squad, and a selection committee will choose two more gymnasts to fill out the four-person team. The U.S. can also send a “plus-one,” a spot that will go to someone who has a good chance at winning an individual medal but whose scores won’t count toward the team total. In addition, Jade Carey earned an individual Olympic berth through her exceptional performances in the apparatus World Cup series.

Up to five alternates will be named, a larger number than usual because of the potential impact of one gymnast (or more) testing positive for COVID-19 and entering COVID protocols. The announcement of the team and the alternates is expected to be made within 30 minutes of the conclusion of the event Sunday.

The men’s competition will conclude Saturday, to be followed about a half-hour later by the announcement of the men’s team and up to five alternates. The men have four spots for their team and a plus-one individual competitor. NCAA and U.S. all-around champion Brody Malone of Stanford was in the lead after the first day with 85.25 points, followed by Shane Wiskus (84.30), Yul Moldauer (83.65) and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak of Newport Beach (83.20).

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