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LONDON 2012

U.S. men falter, and China takes the gold

Dashing early hopes, the American gymnasts finish fifth. Japan fights for silver.

July 31, 2012|Diane Pucin

LONDON — John Orozco was brought to tears by a vault that he landed sitting down instead of standing up. Danell Leyva cried at the end, when the U.S. men's gymnastics team finished a disappointing fifth, well out of medal contention after what had seemed a triumphant beginning at the Olympics two days before.

China scored 275.997 points Monday to win its second straight men's team gold medal and its third in the last four Olympics, with a performance that was a complete reversal from a startling sixth-place finish in team qualifications.

Favored Japan took silver, more than four points behind China, and needed help from a video replay to earn a medal at all. Britain won the bronze, its first team medal since 1912.

Olympic rookie Sam Mikulak, a 19-year-old from Newport Coast, said he felt something new Monday, something he had never experienced before as an athlete.

"A bunch of nerves," Mikulak said. "I wasn't at my best."

Mikulak said feelings of anticipation, excitement and expectation all became jumbled, and it was as if the position of his arms and legs needed a global navigation device.

"The Olympics just magnifies everything so much more than I expected," Mikulak said. "It was a lot more pressure than I expected."

After a mediocre start on the floor exercise, the U.S., which had scored more points than any team in the qualification round Saturday, just about ended all medal hopes on its second rotation, the pommel horse.

First, Leyva came off the apparatus and scored a disappointing 13.400. Mikulak was up next and, knowing that another big mistake could end team hopes, didn't waver. He completed the routine and gave the crowd a fist pump.

But the third U.S. team member, Orozco, moved as if he were fighting his way through plastic wrap. He was slow and labored and posted a score of 12.733.

In team finals, the unforgiving format is that three of the five members compete and all three scores count. Mistakes can't be made to disappear as they do in qualifications, where four men compete and only three scores count.

After only two rotations, the Americans were seventh and more than seven points behind China.

Hopes of the U.S. matching its 2008 bronze medal went away in the fourth rotation, when Orozco landed his vault in a sitting position instead of feet first. When he came to the sidelines, Orozco had tears in his eyes, even before his low score of 14.600 was posted.

"It didn't go as planned today," said Orozco, who had won the U.S. nationals in May. "I can't help but feel personally responsible because I did five events. I did the most out of everyone and I botched two of them. It hurts."

The meet ended with a bit of a scoring controversy. When the last competitor, three-time world all-around champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan, finished on pommel horse, a score of 13.466 was posted. So were final standings -- China first, Britain second and Ukraine third.

But the Japanese filed an inquiry and after about five minutes, Uchimura's apparatus score was changed to 14.166. That bumped his team to the silver medal position and, accompanied by a large chorus of boos, the British team became bronze medalists. The Ukraine team was even worse off. Fourth.

Even with that boost, Uchimura wasn't happy. "I am not entirely pleased about ending up with the silver medal," he said.

So transformed were the Chinese from the preliminary round that the team was asked whether it had purposely played possum two days ago.

"It was not a smoke screen," Zou Kai said. "If we did that, it would not be serious, and we did want to make the final."

From sixth to first, that's what the Chinese did. Better than first to fifth. Just ask the U.S.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Gymnastics

Men's team

G China, 275.997

S Japan, 271.952

B Britain, 271.711

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