Pommel horse derails U.S. team

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LONDON -- Their closest rivals were still on the floor competing when the Chinese whipped out five big gold stars and held them up in the shape of their flag.

Why wait?

The Chinese won their second consecutive Olympic title in men's gymnastics and third in four Games in a rout Monday, making fools of everyone who wrote them off after a dismal performance in qualifying.

"We don't have any faults. That's our secret to beat the Japanese and to beat everyone," Zhang Chenglong said. "In preliminaries, we had a little bit of faults. But tonight was completely perfect."

Well, almost.

It took five minutes and a video review to sort out the silver and bronze medalists after Japan questioned the score of three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura on pommel horse, the last routine. Japan jumped from fourth to second after judges revised Uchimura's score, bumping Britain down to bronze and Ukraine off the medals podium.

It was the British men's first team medal in a century, and it set off raucous celebrations at the O2 Arena. Even Princes William and Harry joined in.

"To win a medal in your home Games, I'll take that any day," Kristian Thomas said. "We never actually had the silver in our hands, so there's no real disappointment."

Tell that to the Japanese, who were bested by the Chinese yet again. Japan was the runner-up to China in Beijing, as well as at the past four world championships.

China now has gone eight years without losing at a major competition.

"At the very beginning it was fourth for Japan so I couldn't say anything. I couldn't think anything," a somber Uchimura said. "I was thinking, 'It's fourth, it's fourth.' Even after it was changed, I was not too happy."

The Americans weren't all that happy, either

Bronze medalists four years ago, they could practically feel their first gold since 1984 after finishing No. 1 in qualifying, with captain Jonathan Horton jokingly asking if they could claim their prizes. But everyone gets a do-over in team finals, and whatever momentum the Americans had evaporated when Danell Leyva and John Orozco fell on pommel horse, their second event.

They wound up fifth, six points behind China and almost two behind Britain.

"There's definitely disappointment," Horton said.

"We are one of the best teams in the world."

But China is in a class by itself.

The Chinese have been like playground bullies most of the past decade, sauntering into every competition and scooping up as many gold medals as possible: team golds at the past five world championships and Olympic titles in Sydney and Beijing, where they won all but one of the men's medals.

They probably would have claimed that, too, had they bothered to contend for vault.

But with most of the Beijing squad moving on and a rule change putting a premium on all-arounders, China has looked vulnerable of late. Chen Yibing, a double gold medalist in '08, even tried to dampen the expectations this spring, saying it would be "extremely hard" for the Chinese to defend their team title. It didn't get any easier when Teng Haibin, the '04 gold medalist on pommel horse, dropped out with an injury Thursday.

An abysmal performance in qualifying only furthered the doubt when they finished sixth.

While everyone else was gleefully expecting the end of a dynasty, China was as cocky and cool as always.

"We have the abilities and the skills," said Chen Yibing, one of only two holdovers from the Beijing squad. Asked when he knew his team would win, he said: "After getting up from bed."

olympics - sportsother


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