TOKYO: Simone Biles, the reigning Olympic all-around champion who won four gold medals in Rio, is on track for six gymnastics gold medals at the Tokyo Games.
Already regarded as one of the sport's all-time greats, Biles arrived in Tokyo targeting a record haul, including beating the mark of five gold medals at a single Olympics by a woman gymnast.
The 24-year-old was expected to launch an all-out assault on the podium and record books in Tokyo.
Biles will have a packed program in Tokyo leading the United States' defence of their team title and her all-around crown while qualifying for the finals in the balance beam, asymmetric bars, vault and floor exercise.
With no spectators allowed inside the Ariake Gymnastics Centre due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was very much a businesslike effort by Biles and her American team-mates. However, it was far from business as usual with a resurgent Russian team firing a warning shot.
Russia, competing in Tokyo as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) because the country was stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences, have not won the women's team title since their triumph as the Unified Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But they lead with a mark of 171.629, more than a full point clear of the US with 170.562.
The US has won the team event in every Olympics and world championship since 2011.
Even without the presence of thousands of screaming fans, the spotlight in a near-empty arena seldom strayed from Biles, who was the focus of attention each time she stepped up to a piece of equipment.
With zero energy in the building, Biles got the competition off to a flat start by flying off the mat with both feet at the end of one tumbling pass during her floor exercise.
But such was the degree of difficulty of her routine, that even with the big error, she still earned the second-highest score on the apparatus, behind only Vanessa Ferrari of Italy.
She finished with the top mark in the vault but could not find her best form on the beam and uneven bars.
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Simone Biles had failed to qualify for the uneven bars finals. Reuters has since corrected this.