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US women’s gymnastics goes for team gold Tuesday

Gold lasts forever, but sports dynasties do not.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team — one of the biggest near-locks to win a gold medal in any event at the Tokyo Olympics — finished behind the Russia Olympic Committee team in the qualifying round. The stunning result marked the first time since the 2010 World Championships that Team USA finished out of first place, and either it will be remembered as a wake-up call to a giant accustomed to winning with ease or as the first sign of a crack in the invincible armor.

Scores are wiped clean after qualifying, so the still-favored U.S. doesn’t have ground to make up, but suddenly there is less margin for error for Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum on Tuesday at 6:45 a.m. ET (live on Peacock streaming service, replay at 8 p.m. on NBC). Three gymnasts for each country will compete on each of the four events — floor exercise, vault, uneven bars and balance beam — to formulate the team score.

“We had great performances today, and some not so great ones,” national team coordinator Tom Forster said Sunday after qualifying. “But the errors that we made, I think, are mental, because the girls have been training incredibly well. So it’s things that we have some time to work on before finals, and we’ll do it.”

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The 1954 Yankees didn’t win a sixth straight World Series. The 1961 Montreal Canadiens fell short of a sixth straight Stanley Cup. The 1967 Boston Celtics’ bid for a nine-peat failed. Is 2021 the end of an 11-year-run of American superiority in women’s gymnastics?

Probably not if Biles — the most decorated female gymnast of all time — eliminates some of the sloppy mistakes that limited her off-the-charts scoring. She still posted the highest individual score in qualifying — and Lee was third — but the U.S. needs Biles to widen the gap at the top.

Simone Biles and the U.S. women's gymnastics team goes for team gold Tuesday.
Simone Biles and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team goes for team gold Tuesday.
AP Photo

“It wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it,” Biles wrote on Instagram. “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The Olympics is no joke!”

Russia has made up a lot of ground in just two years, after a second-place finish of more than five points — a huge margin in gymnastics, where tenths of a point are separators — behind the U.S. at the 2019 World Championships. Russia won silver at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and last finished ahead of its longtime on the biggest stage in 2000.

Jordan Chiles on the balance beam.
Jordan Chiles on the balance beam.
AP Photo

“I want to say congratulations to Russia for the amazing competition they did today,” Forster said. “For the transformation they’ve made since 2019.”

Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner also competed for Team USA during qualifying, when there is greater wiggle room because the lowest total of four scorers per event is dropped. Scores are based on a combination of difficulty and execution, and the Russians passed the Americans — 171.629 to 170.562 — by using near-flawless routines to make up for some missing technical components.

Biles and McCallum both stepped out of bounds on the floor routines, while Chiles dragged her feet on bars and fell off the beam once before ending with a shaky dismount. Carey scored big but was entered as an unattached individual competitor and not part of Team USA’s scoring.

“Wasn’t the meet of my life,” Chiles wrote on Instagram, “but I do have to say I learned a lot from it, and ready to go out and show the world why I am here.”

The world will be watching to see whether a dynasty ends or continues.

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