American gymnast Jon Horton, left, celebrates with a coach after completing… (Ben Stansall / AFP/Getty…)
LONDON -- Even their falls came at the right time.
The U.S. men's gymnastics team was in first place overall in team qualifying after the two of the three subdivisions contested Saturday, ahead of the favorites from Japan, the defending gold medalists from China and the hometown squad from Britain.
The third subdivision on Saturday includes teams from Russia and Germany that are also expected to contend for medals, but the U.S. men seemed to get a boost of confidence from their scoring Saturday. The U.S. team had 275.342 points with Britain second at 272.420, followed by Japan in third with 270.503 and China at fourth with 270.503.
Also surprising was the rough performance from Kohei Uchimura, the three-time defending world all-around champion from Japan. Uchimura fell twice, on the pommel horse and high bar, and was fourth in the all-around qualification scoring behind Americans Danell Leyva and John Orozco and Kristian Thomas of Britain.
PHOTOS: London Olympics | Day 1
Because of the qualifying formula where four men competed each in event but only the top three scores counted, the U.S. men didn't have to count a routine that included a fall.
After Saturday's final subdivision, the top eight teams will move on to the medal round as will the top 24 all-around finishers (making provisions for no more than two per country) and the top eight on each apparatus (again, no more than two per country).
In Monday's team final, the format changes. Three men will compete on each apparatus and all three scores will count.
The only returning veteran from the 2008 U.S. men's bronze medal-winning team, Jon Horton, said that even though all qualifying scores are erased and everyone will start from zero Monday, "seeing our name in front will give us some confidence."
The U.S. men haven't won team gold since the Bart Conner-led 1984 team in Los Angeles stood atop the podium in an Olympics that was boycotted by several top teams.
Saturday the U.S. team got off to a rough start. Horton was first up on pommel horse and he fell with a thud and scored only 12.700. "I'm just not good on pommel horse," Horton said with a shrug. But his teammates came through. Sam Mikulak of Newport Coast, Leyva and Orozco came after Horton and made no big mistakes.
That's how the day seemed to go for the U.S. If someone started out with a splat (Mikulak did that on high bar), teammates followed up by doing big skills and avoiding big errors.
After Leyva competed the last routine of the session for the U.S. -- scoring a 15.866 on the high bar and sending his father and coach, Yin Alvarez, into fist-pumping spasms of joy as he ran up and down the stairs above the competition floor (Alvarez isn't an official team coach and so is confined to the stands) -- a strong contingent of American fans was shouting "USA, USA," and the team seemed to do a collective fist-pump.