Commodities: U.S. Women Gymnasts Qualify for Rio Olympics, Though in Mixed Fashion

By Louise Radnofsky 
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GLASGOW–A first-place finish that was marred by uncharacteristic errors by the U.S. women’s gymnastics team on Saturday confirmed that it isn’t quite business as usual at the biggest international meet before next year’s Olympics.

The globally-dominant U.S. team was supposed to be a can’t-miss combination of household names who took home the Olympic team title from London in 2012 and up-and-comers who won the world title in their own right in 2014 while Raisman and Douglas had taken time off from the sport, enjoying their previous success.

In the qualifying rounds that determine which countries can send teams to the Rio Olympics as well as who gets to compete for world titles in the coming week, there were misses.

Among them was a fall off beam by Douglas and falls by Raisman and Brenna Dowell from the uneven bars. Dowell’s trouble on the uneven bars came just after she had shaken off a technical glitch forcing her to perform most of her floor routine without music.

The flaws didn’t immediately matter, as the U.S. team ended atop the qualifying round and along with the next seven finishers, now have confirmed spots for the Olympic 2016 team competition. Uneven bars and beam specialist Madison Kocian put in a strong performance, as did first-time world competitor Maggie Nichols on floor exercise and the vault.

Two-time defending individual all-round world champion Simone Biles didn’t disappoint either, earning blowout scores on floor and vault, in particular, to lead the individual women’s standings by a wide margin. But Biles’ consistency is such that she is relied upon to keep herself together even when those around her lose their composure. With expectations so high for the American team, all six of its competing members are likely to be under close scrutiny for the rest of the competition.

Biles’ personal hold over American and international competition means Raisman and Douglas, who have four Olympic gold medals and a bronze between them, had to fight for who could be the other U.S. gymnast in the all-round final on Thursday because of a limit of two entrants per country.

Douglas prevailed, in a year in which she has largely trailed Raisman in their respective comeback attempts. She ended up third in the competition’s individual athlete standings.

Raisman was fifth, which was of little consolation. “I feel like I let everyone down,” she said. “I just wasn’t myself.”

The Americans’ turn came after a day and a half of competition that had already disrupted plenty of the established order of international gymnastics.

A dismal performance by the Romanian team–considered one of gymnastics’ big four, alongside China, Russia, and the U. S.–left that country out of a major international team final for the first time in decades. The Romanian athletes now find themselves among a second tier of competitors who will try to earn berths at Rio by competing at a test event there next April.

Russia performed well enough to finish by qualifying second, despite competing without mainstay Aliya Mustafina. Newcomer Seda Tutkhalian, in her first year in senior ranks, scored highly across all four apparatus to secure a place in the all-round final; she was the only Russian to do so.

Great Britain, which emerged as a world-class team for the 2012 London Games, was on home soil again here in Glasgow, and scored third highest, eclipsing China, whose competitors had mixed performances and ended in fourth place. Britons Amy Tinkler and Ruby Harrold scooped up all-round final spots.

Floor routines from Sae Miyakawa and Mai Murakami helped propel the Japanese into top tier status, with a sixth-place finish. They were joined by Italy, in fifth, Canada, in seventh place, and the Netherlands, who surprisingly squeaked in at eighth and launched a jubilant celebration on the floor of the arena.

In an unusual sideshow, there were two Americans here– Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson–who became dual citizens of Belarus earlier this year to compete for that country, despite never having set foot in it.

Neither was a high-ranking contender. But they drew attention because of criticism that their sudden appearance in a Belarusian team uniform was different from instances where athletes switch competitive allegiances but have ties to the new countries they represent.

Both told reporters later they had been presented with an opportunity to compete that they wouldn’t have had otherwise and that they were comfortable with grasping the chance. Belarus had put them in this competition to see how they would do relative to other homegrown Belarussians who had competed in recent years, Kwan told reporters.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky-wsj.com