Gymnastics: Suspense takes over from formality at U.S. trials

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Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas prepare for trials ahead of Rio

SAN JOSE, California, July 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, which had shaped up as a formality, have turned suddenly suspenseful with an unexpected shakeup in the battle for Rio Games spots ahead of the final round of competition on Sunday.

Three-time world all-around champion Simone Biles, London Olympic gold medallists and Fierce Five team mates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman and 16-year-old Lauren Hernandez were believed to have the inside track on four of the five Rio berths up for grabs coming into the trials.

That presumably left the rest of the field of 14 battling for the fifth and final ticket.

But previous assumptions have been put on hold following a shaky performance on Friday by London all-around champion Douglas, who fell off the balance beam.

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SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 10: Simone Biles waits to warm up on the uneven bars during Day 2 of the 2016 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at SAP Center on July 10, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 07: Gymnast Madison Kocian poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 7, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 11: Mykayla Skinner of United States competes on the Beam during practice prior to the 2016 FIG Artistic World Cup at The Emirates Arena on March 11, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 12: MyKayla Skinner of USA competes on the Floor on her way to winning gold during the Womens All-Around Artistic World Cup competition at the Emirates Arena on March 12, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Ragan Smith competes on the uneven bars during day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 10: Gabrielle Douglas warms up on the floor exercise during day 2 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 10, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Simone Biles during day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Gabrielle Douglas during day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Alexandra Raisman with Mihai Brestyan after competing on the balance beam during day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Lauren Hernandez competes on the uneven bars during Day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Lauren Hernandez competes on the floor exercise during Day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 10: Lauren Hernandez warms up on the uneven bars during Day 2 of the 2016 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at SAP Center on July 10, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Gabrielle Douglas competes on the floor exercise during day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 24: MyKayla Skinner competes in the floor exercise during day one of the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chafitz Arena on June 24, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 08: Ragan Smith before competing on the balance beam during day 1 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team Trials at SAP Center on July 8, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
EVERETT, WA - APRIL 10: Ragan Smith competes on the balance beam during Day 3 of the 2016 Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships at Xfinity Arena on April 10, 2016 in Everett, Washington. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Determined challenges from MyKayla Skinner, Ragan Smith and Madison Kocian on Friday have further clouded the situation, leaving U.S. women's national team program director Martha Karolyi with plenty to consider before announcing the squad.

The two-day trails will take the scores from each evening, as gymnasts compete on four different apparatus, and add them together to determine overall results.

However, unlike the cut-and-dried U.S. swimming and track and field trials where you win and you are in, a three-member selection panel headed up by Karolyi will have the final say on the makeup of the gymnastics team.

The biggest question mark hanging over the trials going into Sunday is whether Douglas can bounce back from a weak effort and deliver a performance that convinces Karolyi she deserves a ticket to Rio next month.

Sitting seventh after the opening night with her confidence shaken, Douglas will have to quickly regroup and tap into the resolve that has earned her a reputation as a clutch performer.

"We take the decision tomorrow after we compete," said Karolyi. "You have to work with different personalities and figure out what works best with everybody.

"You also compare the girls that are behind her (Douglas) and you have to see if anybody else can do more contribution for the team.

"That's how it is. If she (Douglas) can contribute, good. If she cannot contribute, it is a different story."

One thing that went to script was Biles sitting top of the rankings with a score of 61.850, more than a point clear of Hernandez, who is setting herself up as a potential breakout star in Rio.

Raisman put her Olympic experience to good use, shrugging off the pressure to move into third in front of wildcards Skinner and Madison Kocian.

"I don't want to get myself too excited yet but I would be so more than honored to on that Olympic team," said Skinner, who remains a longshot for a spot despite a strong all-around showing that included a second on vault, fourth on beam and fifth on floor.

"Tomorrow, just do the same thing, go out there with confidence and hit all four again." (Editing by Andrew Both)

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