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Simone Biles leads after first night at U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials

Simone Biles leads after first night at U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials

Simone Biles reacts after her uneven bars routine at the U.S. Olympic trials Friday night. Her all-around total of 60.565 points led after the first segment of the two-part competition. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

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

Defending Olympic all-around champion Simone Biles, whose every move drew roars from the lively crowd in the Dome at America’s Center, held off an impressive effort by Sunisa Lee to top 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 off 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. MyKayla Skinner, a 2016 Olympic alternate who competed for the University of Utah before returning to elite gymnastics, was a solid fourth with 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.

Biles, Skinner and Shilese Jones were the top three vaulters.

Simone Biles competes on the balance beam during the women's U.S. Olympic trials June 25, 2021.

Simone Biles competes Friday night on the balance beam. She had the best score in the event at 15.133. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

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 the rest of the four-person team. The U.S. also can 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 will go to Tokyo after earning an individual berth through her performances in the apparatus World Cup series.

Up to five alternates will be named, more than usual because of the potential impact of one gymnast (or more) testing positive for COVID-19 or entering COVID protocols. The announcement of the team and the alternates is expected 30 minutes after Sunday’s finale.

USA Gymnastics officials didn’t make any of the top six gymnasts available for webinar interviews Friday, saying the competitors needed to rest. Skinner’s observations surely would have been interesting.

Unique here in that she’s married, Skinner, 24, made the rare move from elite gymnastics to college and back to the more intense world of elite gymnastics. Her persistence could pay off in an Olympic berth.

“I was talking to agents, and they said, ‘For you, going to college is worth more than going pro if you’re not Aly [Raisman] or Simone,’ ” Skinner said in a pre-event interview Wednesday. “Being older, it’s just been awesome because with all the experience I’ve had and I feel like my gymnastics has been better than ever, which is super cool, so I wish a lot more athletes could get to this point.”

Skinner also said the atmosphere around the trials had changed for the better since her 2016 experiences. The key difference is the absence of hard-driving Martha Karolyi, who resigned as the women’s team coordinator after the 2016 Rio Olympics. Also, Skinner said she now feels like the “mom” to her young teammates.

“It’s just a whole different ballgame. Especially not having Martha anymore,” Skinner said. “I feel like the trainings are actually kind of a lot more fun. It’s still stressful, but it’s not as stressful as it used to be. I feel like with Martha there was no room to just feel relaxed and just go out there or even just enjoy this whole process because if we weren’t good enough, we wouldn’t be here, so I think it’s cool that we’ve even gotten to come to Olympic trials and have this experience. It’s something that you just really, really need to enjoy. …

“Last trials, I tried to have fun, but it was just so much pressure and stress. I’ve already been there and done it, so let’s just go and give it my all and just go out there and have fun with this because it’s my last Olympic trials. I just really want to enjoy it this time and not worry too much about other things.”

At this rate, she won’t have to worry about an Olympic spot. Biles, Lee and Chiles are in a class of their own, but Skinner can make an impact in Tokyo too.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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