The Russian, however, made amends with an energetic display with the ball to lead the standings with a score of 53.300 after two rounds of the preliminaries.
In the team event, defending champions Russia snatched the lead from Italy with the final routine of the day with their synchronised ribbon performance.
Four years after a runaway hoop cost her the title at the Sydney Games, Kabaeva was again off target on Thursday with her prop.
The hoop landed beyond her reach, but the gold medal favourite quickly grabbed it before it spun off the marked area -- as it had done in Sydney. She was awarded 26.050 points, and placed third.
Her main rival and compatriot Irina Tchachina had already impressed the judges with an acrobatic routine and topped the standings with 26.700
Kabaeva then produced a near faultless performance with the ball to earn the highest mark of the day, 27.250, and leapfrog Tchachina in the overall rankings.
Tchachina was second with a total of 53.150 and Ukraine's Anna Bessonova third on 52.650.
The athletes will demonstrate their skills with clubs and ribbons on Friday, with the top 10 going through to Sunday's final.
The five-member Russian squad trailed Italy by 0.15 of a point in the team event after the first round but they made up the deficit with a dazzling ribbon display to earn a combined total of 49.875. Italy had 48.175. The final will be on Saturday.