Simone Biles dominates first day of U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials as injuries shake up field

MINNEAPOLIS —  Injuries, tears, chaos and then, mercifully, Simone Biles. A mere 15 minutes into the U.S. Olympic Trials, the entire evening felt unhinged, if not off the rails. Shilese Jones, a prohibitive favorite to make the five-woman team as an all-arounder, injured her left knee during vault warmups and then 15 minutes later, 2020 Olympic alternate Kayla DiCello exited the arena in a wheelchair, hurt on the first vault of the night.

Into the abyss stepped the surest thing in gymnastics. Biles grabbed the uneven bars, hit her routine and scored a 14.425, the second best of the evening. She was not entirely immune to the mayhem. She barely saved her mount onto the balance beam, appearing visibility miffed with herself for the miscue and punctuated her frustration with an exclamation that rhymes with duck after completing her set.

But she then stepped onto the floor for her next rotation and did things no other human on the planet can do (or really should be able to do) — seemingly with ease. She scored a 14.850, the crowd loudly gasping as she ran through her signature moves — the Biles II, and then the Biles I.

She finished the evening with an equally impossibly difficult double pike on vault, with every single gymnast on the floor turning their eyes to her as she began her sprint. Biles lofted into the air and landed with just the smallest of steps backwards, earning an extended standing ovation. She scored an eye-popping 15.975 to finish day one of trials where she generally lands — atop the all-around leaderboard standings.

Right behind her stood fellow Tokyo Olympians Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee, the veterans helping to restore some other to an otherwise unsettled evening. Lee, the reigning all-around Olympic gold medalist who has been dealing with two kidney diseases for the past year, missed a connection on uneven bars and fought hard for a save on beam, but the difficulty of both sets made up for the bobbles. The Minnesota native, enjoying the hometown crowd’s adoration, scored a third-best 14.400 on bars and the top score on beam with a 14.400. She also unveiled an entirely new floor routine, scoring a 13.700, leaving the floor looking equal parts happy and relieved.

Chiles, the vivacious crowd pleaser, punctuated her 14.100 on floor with a fist bump and “let’s go,‘’ to the crowd. Another powerhouse on vault, she added a score of 14.325.

The crowd and the team needed their levelheadedness after a rocky start to the evening. Two days after Skye Blakely had to withdraw after rupturing her Achilles during training,  Jones injured her left knee just as warmups were winding down and had to be helped off the floor. Slated to start on that same apparatus, she instead sat it out, walking away from the vault and grabbing a sweatshirt.

One rotation later, however, she completed her uneven bars set — despite getting a large blister on her palm in the process. She landed gingerly on her dismount and then scratched from the remainder of the meet. Jones only had to compete on one apparatus, however, to still be eligible for a spot on the Olympic squad. While the Trials factor largely into the decisions from the three-person selection committee, there is plenty of wiggle room for discretionary choices. Jones did not, however, compete in the U.S Championships as she nursed a shoulder injury.

DiCello’s return appears doubtful. Introduced as the first athlete of the evening, she never really got into her vault, and landed on the mat unable to move and in tears. Medical staff immediately scooped her up and placed her in a wheelchair. She did not return to the competition floor.

That leaves 14 women — presuming Jones can continue — fighting for the five spots at Sunday’s trials finale.

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(Photo: Elsa / Getty Images)

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