BEIJING : China’s all-conquering men’s gymnastics team powered to top spot in their qualification section before an ecstatic crowd on Saturday at the Beijing Olympics, shouldering aside the United States on the way.
Every routine from a Chinese team featuring three world champions was meet with cheers and applause in the 18,000-seater National Indoor Stadium as the hosts crushed the opposition in the second of three qualifying rounds.
China remain red-hot favourites for a swag of medals when the gymnastics finals begin Tuesday, qualifying first in section two with 374.675 points, with Japan second on 369.55 and Russia third on 366.225.
It was all about the hometown heroes for the crowd, which erupted into chants of “Yang Wei, Yang Wei” when the individual world champion took to the floor for the first time.
The jubilant Chinese gymnasts high-fived each other between routines, with pommel horse world champion Xiao Qin scoring 16.000 on his favoured apparatus and rings world champion Chen Yibing 16.525 in his.
“The atmosphere was really good everybody telling you ‘go, go, go’, I’ve never had that feeling before,” Chen said through an interpreter.
The performance leaves the Chinese men on track to make amends for a disappointing display in Athens, where they failed to defend their Olympic team title and finished fifth.
The crowd also treated arch-rivals and defending Olympic champions Japan with respect, clapping Kohei Uchimura’s efforts on the high bar as attention briefly shifted from the home team during a gap in the Chinese routines.
While Chinese superstar Yang led the individual standings on 93.875 points, with one qualification round to go, Japanese gymnasts filled the next three spots with Uchimura on 92.05, Koki Sakamoto on 91.95 and Hiroyuki Tomita 91.90.
Canadian Kyle Shewfelt, the defending Olympic floor exercise champion, scored a relatively modest 15.525 but it was still a remarkable Games comeback after he broke both his legs last year training for the world championships.
Earlier, the US team took the lead in the first qualification round, an encouraging sign for an injury ravaged squad, but was knocked down to fourth by the second round results.
The US were rocked by the shock withdrawal of its most senior gymnast Morgan Hamm last Thursday, weakening a team already missing Hamm’s brother Paul, the reigning Olympic individual champion.
“Our goal was to hit our routines and I think we achieved that, I’m very, very pleased with this incredible group of young men,” US head coach Kevin Mazeika said.
Spain’s defending Olympic champion on the floor exercise Gervasio Deferr scored 15.825 in his specialist discipline and Italy’s Olympic high bar champion Igor Cassina posted 16.000 on his apparatus.
Polish world champion Polish Leszek Blanik scored 16.700 on the vault and his equivalent on the exercise floor, Brazil’s Diego Hypolito, tumbled and leapt to 15.950.
The third and final qualification round featuring teams from South Korea, Germany, Romania and Belarus will be held later Saturday.
Scores are no longer marked out of 10. Instead, gymnasts receive two scores — one an open-ended mark measuring the difficulty of the routine, the other a mark out of 10 for how well it was executed.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia