TOKYO — Simone Biles didn't want to talk about it. Neither did Suni Lee, or Grace McCallum, or any other gymnast on the U.S. women's team after a surprisingly ragged performance in the qualifying round at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Americans can still win their third consecutive Olympic team title Tuesday, but their aura of invincibility took a hit on the opening day of the women's competition at the Tokyo Games. A rash of mistakes — some minor, some significant — left them second to Russia in Sunday's team qualifying. That injected some unexpected drama into the team finals and disrupted a long streak of U.S. superiority at the Olympics and world championships.
Lee, of St. Paul, was among the bright spots for the U.S. at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. She posted the second-best score on uneven bars and the third-best in the all-around and on balance beam, moving on to the finals in those three events.
Biles earned the top all-around score and advanced to the finals in every individual event. McCallum, of Isanti, finished 13th in the all-around but will not make the 24-athlete final because only two gymnasts per country can advance. Jade Carey, who is competing as an individual in Tokyo, reached the finals in floor exercise and vault.
The U.S. team declined media interviews following the qualifier. Biles gave a brief comment to the Olympic News Service, saying she felt the team "did a pretty good job'' and is striving for a top-three finish.
"Obviously, there are little things we need to work on,'' Biles said. "We'll go back and practice and work on that, so we can do our best performance at team finals. That's what matters.''
Sunday's scores do not carry over, so the U.S. will get a fresh start Tuesday. But the error-filled day showed the Russians — the losing side of one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, the 1980 Miracle on Ice — that a Miracle on the Mat might be possible.
"We hope,'' Russian captain Angelina Melnikova said. "We're going to struggle and fight. We have to. That's the expectation for us.''
USA Gymnastics has been mired in chaos for the past few years, with the fallout from its handling of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal leading to bankruptcy, lawsuits and frequent turnover in key positions. Yet the women's team has risen above all that. It won Olympic team gold in 2012 and 2016, as well as the past five team titles at the world championships, often by overwhelming margins.
Sunday marked the first time since 2010 that the Americans did not top the team standings in the qualifying round or the finals at an Olympic or world meet. Russia finished with a team score of 171.629, more than a point ahead of the Americans' 170.562.
The trouble started early. On the first routine of the first U.S. event, floor exercise, McCallum bounced out of bounds on the landing of her initial tumbling pass.
The difficulty of Biles' routines kept her scores high, but she struggled with her precision. She landed on her heels on a tumbling pass during her floor exercise and stepped so far backward she came off the floor. She stepped off the mat on a vault landing, and on her balance beam dismount, Biles took multiple steps backward.
Even Jordan Chiles, who had hit every routine this year, faltered. She fell twice during her beam routine and scraped her feet on the floor during her bars set.
Tom Forster, women's high performance team coordinator for USA Gymnastics, attributed the mistakes to nervousness. He said mental errors led to poor execution for the U.S., while crediting Russia for the tidiness of its performances and the depth of its lineup.
"Just like in any other sport, great athletes drop the ball in the end zone, or the quarterback throws an interception,'' Forster said. "I think mentally, we're going to be OK.
"This was not the finals. This was getting into the finals. So this might be a great awakening for us, and we'll take advantage of it.''
All those mistakes are fixable, Forster said. He added that he did not think the U.S. team was overconfident, despite its decade of dominance.
The team finals will end McCallum's competition in Tokyo. Known for her consistency, she was steady again on Sunday. In a format where four athletes competed and the top three scores counted, McCallum and Biles were the only Americans to have their marks in every event included in the team score.
McCallum's highest score came on vault, where she tied for 13th with a mark of 14.533.
Lee appeared nervous before her turn on bars. She opted out of her highest-scoring routine, dialing back the difficulty but making up for it with brilliant execution. Her most challenging routine has a 6.8 difficulty score, and the one she did Sunday was a 6.6.
As Russia did with the team race, Belgium's Nina Derwael upped the ante on bars. Though Lee has been considered the gold-medal favorite, Derwael's score of 15.366 topped the standings Sunday and added some intrigue to the Aug. 1 final.