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U.S. Can't Catch China

American men settle for second consecutive silver medal in World Gymnastics Championships. Japan wins bronze.

August 20, 2003|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

With chants of "USA, USA," reverberating through the arena and their chances of winning a gold medal hanging in the balance, U.S. gymnasts stepped up to the high bar.

But not before China raised it.

Trailing China by nearly eight-tenths of a point going into the last rotation, the U.S put on an impressive performance in its last event but settled for its second consecutive silver medal in the World Gymnastics Championships in front of 6,280 Tuesday night at the Arrowhead Pond.

China finished with 171.996 points, ahead of the U.S. with 171.121 points. Japan was third at 170.708, followed by Russia, Romania, Korea, France and Ukraine.

"All I can say is, 'Wow.' It's so exciting and intense," said Brett McClure, the leadoff man for the U.S. on the high bar. "Everyone made small mistakes. Whoever minimized them came out on top."

McClure, who had the highest preliminary score for the U.S. on the bar on Sunday, fought off nerves to successfully land his dismount.

"We came to sort of scare the Chinese a little bit," he said. "They're an unstoppable force, but we did it."

McClure was followed on the bar by veteran Blaine Wilson, a five-time national all-around champion who performed with poise and experience gained as a member of the United States' 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams and appearances in three previous World Championships.

Wilson hit a laid-out Kovacs to open his routine and then landed cleanly on his dismount.

The medal, clinched when Paul Hamm scored a 9.475 on his high bar routine, was the first from the World Championships for Wilson, who was not on the U.S. team that also won silver at the 2001 meet.

"I still haven't fully grasped it," Hamm said. "It's like something you've been working for your entire life."

The meet was the second full World Championships in which a new, more stringent scoring system was used, in which teams put up just three gymnasts on each event, and all three scores counted. The format leaves little room for error compared to the old format in which five athletes performed on each apparatus, and four scores counted.

"I'm really proud of the guys," U.S. Coach Kevin Mazeika said. "The format is different, and it's very, very tough. They fought from the very beginning, to the very end."

The U.S. appeared to benefit from a mistake by judges of the vault, where Morgan Hamm's attempt was originally assigned a higher start value than it should have been. Hamm planned to do a Kasamatsu 2 1/2 twist, with a maximum 9.90 starting value that left more room for deductions, but he actually executed a Kasamatsu 1 1/2 with 9.50 start value.

The error was caught by International Gymnastics Federation officials, however, and the point difference was taken off his score.

China followed the U.S. on the vault and had a 28.762 total, the highest in the event, drawing prompting cheers and flag-waving from Chinese fans in a section of seats in front of the apparatus.

The best event for the U.S. was the still rings, where Raj Bhavsar, Jason Gatson and Blaine Wilson averaged 9.687. Gatson scored 9.712 and Wilson a 9.737.

The U.S. actually got off to a better start Tuesday than it did in preliminaries thanks to a much-improved showing on the floor, which gave every other team fits all night.

Morgan Hamm, the U.S. national champion on the floor, stumbled in the exercise during qualifying but scored a 9.625 as a follow-up to Paul Hamm's 9.675.

Paul Hamm's mark was the highest score of the night in the event, Morgan's the third-highest. Their efforts more than made up for a disappointing 8.975 by leadoff man Gatson and gave the U.S. the best cumulative average.

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