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Chinese men get gold; no medal for U.S.

They win third in row at world championships, ahead of Japan and Germany. Americans come in fourth as hopes slip away on high bar.

September 07, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

STUTTGART, Germany -- For the thrill of competition, it was worthwhile to watch Germany's Fabian Hambuechen whip around the high bar, reaching for the stands at Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle as if he were trying to shake hands with the raucous German crowd. Or to gasp in sympathy when back-to-back Americans fell off the same high bar, ultimately costing their team a bronze medal.

For the appreciation of precise yet joyful gymnastics, to watch the most difficult vaults, triple twists with high start values, landed without even the bend of a knee, it was more worthwhile to watch defending gold medalist Yang Wei and his teammate Huang Xu. Or to see Yang and his teammate Xiao Qin hypnotize with their high-kicking flares on the pommel horse.

The Chinese men won their third consecutive world championship team gold medal Thursday, outscoring runner-up Japan by more than four points, 281.900 to 277.025.

Afterward, Japanese star Hiroyuki Tomita said wearily, "We must go home and get better," and Chinese Coach Huang Yubin sat straight-faced and said he did not know whether this team would represent China in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I have to think about it," Huang said. "There are a lot of great gymnasts back in China as well."

Germany won the team bronze medal, a popular decision in this arena where drums beat and cowbells jingled. The margin between Germany (273.525) and the fourth-place U.S. (272.275) was the deductions taken when team captain David Durante and team daredevil Alexander Artemev, one after the other, fell off the high bar.

It is Germany's first team gymnastics medal since 1991 and Hambuechen, who is such a star here that his romantic alliances are popular photo spreads in the tabloids, said, "It was just an awesome feeling today."

Despite the manner in which they fell, literally, to fourth, the Americans preferred to celebrate their rise from 13th place last year to one step away from the medal podium.

"The day felt excellent," Durante said. "Fourth is a gigantic improvement. No one counted us in the medal hunt. Now we know we're in the picture for the Olympics."

Artemev said his high bar fall came because he got ahead of himself. "I was a little anxious," he said. "I started to think we were getting close to a medal."

Artemev's performances seem to teeter either to the excellent or totter toward the frustrating. He was kept off the still rings in qualifying because he treats the apparatus dismissively and for that was ineligible to qualify for the individual all-around medals today.

His goal in this next year approaching the Olympics, Artemev said, "is to become the beast of rings."

The six U.S. men on the team are ever conscious that training back home are the defending Olympic all-around gold medalist Paul Hamm and his twin brother, Morgan, who was an integral part of the 2004 U.S. silver medal team performance.

"All of us know we've got to get better to keep our spots," said Jonathan Horton, who will represent the U.S. in the all-around along with Durante, who made the field after Bulgarian Jordan Jovtchev withdrew.

There were few good ideas from any of the gymnasts about how to beat the Chinese next summer in Beijing.

"They're human," Durante said. "They make mistakes too."

Said Artemev: "They've got a billion to chose from. And they've got a very polished team. But we've got more heart than they do."

That seemed a boast best kept to himself. The Chinese arrived here with the expectation they would win gold. They left having won gold and making it look easy.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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