TOKYO: American gymnastics superstar Simone Biles got off to a shaky start in her quest for five gold medals and Olympic history in Tokyo on Sunday, as an Uzbeki mother-of-one bid a poignant farewell after a remarkable career spanning eight Games.
At 46 years old, Oksana Chusovitina, gold medallist at her debut Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, has earned the right to occupy her time in more sedate ways than exploding up a 25 metre runway and somersaulting backwards over a vault against competitors younger than her son.
Among those rivals is Biles, who kept the wheels on her bid to level Soviet great Larisa Latynina’s record of nine gymnastics gold medals, but her qualifying performances were peppered with rare imperfections.
On the floor, Biles over-rotated after one series of mesmerising tumbles and went off the mat, drawing a gasp from at least one onlooker in the near-deserted Ariake Centre.
She rolled her eyes after another unsteady landing over on the vault, and her performance director Tom Forster expressed disbelief after an untidy end to her beam routine.
“Simone took three big steps on the beam dismount, I’ve never seen her do that before,” said Forster.
Biles qualified top in the all-around and vault, and was second on the floor, with the USA occupying the same position behind the Russians for Tuesday’s team final.
But in the beam standings she paid for her flawed ending to lie sixth of the eight progressing.
Biles also booked a place for the uneven bars final, though, which the 19-time world champion missed at Rio 2016, as the eighth qualifier.
While there were many moments of dazzling Biles brilliance, Forster was thankful this was only qualifying.