TOKYO, July 25 — The Simone Biles Show got underway at the Tokyo Games on Sunday, but it did not live up to advance billing as the American's Olympics campaign experienced a rocky start.
Biles was expected to launch an all-out assault on the podium and record books in Tokyo but might not even match her five-medal effort at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with the 24-year-old in danger of missing out on the finals of two individual apparatus, the beam and uneven bars.
By simple accounting alone, Biles is already one of the all-time greats as she owns a combined 30 Olympic and world championship medals. However, she was expected to cement her status with a gold medal bonanza in Tokyo.
She could still strike it rich with gold in the team, all-around and on the vault and floor exercise, but could also miss out on spots in the two other individual apparatus where she sits sixth (beam) and eighth (uneven bars) with two-of-five groups still to compete.
Only the top eight on each apparatus qualify for finals.
With no spectators allowed inside the Ariake Gymnastics Centre due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was very much a business-like 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 offenses, has not won the women's team title since the United Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but leads with a mark of 171.629, more than a full point clear of the U.S. with 170.562.
The U.S. has won the team event in every Olympics and world championship since 2011.
The qualification round determines who will compete for the medals with eight countries advancing to the team final on Tuesday and the top 24 gymnasts, competing on all four apparatus, qualifying for Thursday's all-around competition.
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 sat second 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.
Biles's marks, however, were still enough to put her top the all-around on 57.731 just ahead of teammate Sunisa Lee, from St. Paul, with 57.166.
Rahm, DeChambeau forced to withdraw after positive COVID tests
World number one John Rahm and world number six Bryson DeChambeau both tested positive for COVID-19 before their departure for the Tokyo Olympics, dealing a blow to the golf competition days before its start.
This is the second time in two months that Rahm has tested positive after being forced to withdraw in June from the Memorial Tournament in Ohio as he was leading by six strokes.
The Spaniard had tested positive in the final testing protocol before leaving for the Olympics, the International Golf Federation said.
The Spanish Olympic Committee said due to time constraints a replacement would not be provided and only Adri Arnaus would represent the country in the men's competition.
DeChambeau, however, will be replaced by Patrick Reed, USA Golf said on Sunday.
Reed will join the team in Japan after completing the required testing protocols, with the first round of the competition to begin on Thursday at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
"I am deeply disappointed not to be able to compete in the Olympics for Team USA," DeChambeau said in a statement.
"Representing my country means the world to me and it was a tremendous honor to make this team.
"I wish Team USA the best of luck next week in Tokyo. I will now focus on getting healthy, and I look forward to returning to competition once I am cleared to do so."
Reed, winner of the 2018 Masters, completes a strong squad for the United States that also features recently crowned British Open champion Collin Morikawa as well as 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele.
"I am so excited to have the opportunity to represent our country and be a part of Team USA in Tokyo," said Reed.
"I wish Bryson nothing but the best, and I know how disappointed he is to not be able to compete, and I will do my best to play my best and represent our country."
Tunisian shocks field (and himself) with 400m free gold
Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui was so shocked to see his name in the gold medal position for the 400m freestyle on Sunday he did not believe his eyes but after letting his stunning win at the Tokyo Olympics sink in he said he hoped to have made his family proud.
The 18-year-old, who finished ahead of Australia's Jack McLoughlin and U.S. swimmer Kieran Smith, said he was surprised even to be in the final, where he swam in the outside lane after being the slowest in qualifying.
"I believe it when I touched the wall... I was so surprised I didn't accept that," he told a news conference.
"I dedicate (the gold) to all my family, my mum, my dad, my sisters, I wish they are proud of me."
His gold medal is only the fifth won by a Tunisian athlete at the Olympics, but their third in swimming.
Hafnaoui powered home over the last 50m, touching the wall in 3:43.36, far quicker than the 3:45.68 he swam in qualifying on Saturday. Letting out a scream when he realized he had won, he pumped his first and pointed at the electronic scoreboard.
"I just can't believe it. It's a dream and it became true. It was great. it was my best race ever," he said.
Hafnaoui, who joined Tunisia's national swimming program as a 12-year-old, was all smiles at the medal ceremony and news conference where he was mobbed by reporters and inundated by requests for selfies.
Hafnaoui heaped praise on his coaches, saying they had been so supportive and had "worked too hard."
Hafnaoui, whose father Mohamed Hafnaoui was a former member of the national basketball team, will race in the 800m freestyle on Tuesday. He said he plans to go to college in the United States but did not specify where.
"I felt better in the water this morning than yesterday and that's it. I'm the Olympic champion now."
When asked what he does at home, the teenager said "normal things," like hanging out with friends and playing football.
Smith, who claimed bronze, said he knew nothing about the Tunisian coming into the race.
"He's the Olympic champion in the 400 meter freestyle. That's all I know about him," said the American. "I'm very proud of him."
Athletes can remove masks for photos on medal stand
Athletes must wear masks at all Tokyo Olympic Games venues, including medal ceremonies, the International Olympic Committee said on Sunday, but under a new policy they are briefly allowed to remove them on the podium for a photo opportunity.
Masks are mandatory across all venues, both inside and outside, for all athletes, staff and media, as part of Games organizers' strict measures to combat the coronavirus.
"It's not a nice to have. It's a must to have," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
"No, there is no relaxation and we would urge and ask everyone to obey the rules," Adams said. "It's important for the sports, for everyone involved and for our Japanese friends and it would send a strong message."
But athletes can briefly take them off on the podium for 30 seconds for a photo opportunity, the IOC said,
During Sunday morning's swimming finals, American Chase Kalisz took off his mask on the winners' podium after his gold medal performance in the men's 400 meters medley.
He was standing next to maskless compatriot and silver medalist Jay Literland and Australian Brendon Smith, who took the bronze and also removed his mask.
"The swimmers in the venue this morning followed instructions which they were given by the protocol team," an IOC spokesperson said.
"These instructions were in line with a new policy which in the process of being communicated to all."
"It allows for a socially distanced photo opportunity for a maximum of 30 seconds on the podium."
Team Australia also confirmed their athletes had done nothing wrong.
"Our athletes were simply following the direction of the official at the podium, who holds up a sign saying masks off briefly for the photographs," a Team Australia official said.
The Tokyo Olympics are held mostly without spectators as the capital has seen a rise in daily COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Organizers announced another 10 positive COVID-19 cases to Games-related individuals on Sunday, bringing the total to 132 cases since July 1.