China not impressive in taking lead in qualifying

October 8, 2011 - 12:05 AM
Japan World Gymnastics

China's Yao Jinnan performs the floor exercise during the women's qualifying of the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

TOKYO (AP) — Forget what the standings say. China is going to be eager for a do-over after a lackluster effort Saturday in qualifying at the world gymnastics championships.

The Chinese scored 230.370 points despite major errors on uneven bars, their best event, and passed Romania for the top spot. Romania, which competed Friday, scored 227.228 points.

But those standings are unlikely to hold up with the United States and defending champion Russia competing later Saturday.

The top eight teams earn spots at next summer's London Olympics as well as in Tuesday night's event finals. Scoring starts over in event finals, where three gymnasts compete on each event and all three scores count.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TOKYO (AP) — The U.S. goal at the world gymnastics championships hasn't changed, even if the Americans' lineup has been altered.

Despite losing Beijing Olympic captain Alicia Sacramone to a torn Achilles tendon, the Americans insist they can still contend for a medal — preferably an upgrade from last year's silver.

"We're still a threat," USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said Friday. "We are very much a threat at this event."

The top eight teams at worlds earn spots at next summer's London Olympics. The U.S., defending champion Russia and China begin competition with qualifying Saturday. Romania currently leads qualifying despite a shaky session Friday that included mistakes on three events by all-around contender Ana Porgras, while Australia is second.

Team finals are Tuesday night.

"This is an incredibly talented and wonderful group of girls, and I have great confidence in their ability to go out and represent the United States," Sacramone said.

Losing Sacramone was a big blow for the Americans, who prize her leadership as much as the big scores she puts up on vault, where she is the defending world champion, balance beam and floor exercise. Aly Raisman is now the only American who has competed at a world championships before — and that was last year. The remaining four gymnasts — U.S. champ Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Sabrina Vega and Gabrielle Douglas — are all first-year seniors.

But coach Mihai Brestyan said Sacramone was in good spirits after being hurt during training Thursday, and that's rubbed off on the rest of the team. The team had a good practice Friday, he said.

"She's a help to everybody. She needs to play the captain to the last moment," Brestyan said. "Everything is OK, we are OK."

With Sacramone out and uneven bars specialist Anna Li sidelined by an abdominal injury, Raisman, Wieber, Maroney, Vega and Douglas will have to compete on all four events in qualifying. That's a lot of pressure because the top four scores are counted, leaving little margin for error.

But Penny said that might actually make things easier on the young Americans. All five are all-around gymnasts, so they're used to doing every event at a meet.

"This is the kind of meet that they thrive on," Penny said. "If you look at what they did at the Pan American Championships last year, they're ready for this."

Maroney, Vega and Douglas helped the U.S. win gold at the Pan Americans, then divvied up the individual event titles between them. Vega also finished second in the all-around to fellow American Kyla Ross, who is too young to be competing here. Wieber, meanwhile, was injured and not part of that team, but she proved her mettle at the American Cup, beating world champion Aliya Mustafina in her first meet as a senior.

Still, Pan Ams — even American Cup — are a far cry from the world championships, especially when there's so much at stake.

"These kids are ready for this stage. They're hungry and they're ready," Penny said. "They know what's at stake here, and they want to prove they're a threat this year and next year. That's what this is about. We're here to do our best and to be on that podium. That's what our goals are and those haven't changed."

The Americans faced a similar predicament in 2003, when they lost three gymnasts to injury or illness at the world championships. The team won the gold, its first world title.

Granted, that team had 2000 Olympian Tasha Schwikert. But it also had three first-year seniors in Carly Patterson, Chellsie Memmel and Holly Vise. Patterson won the silver medal in the all-around, while Memmel, who started as an alternate, and Vise tied for the title on uneven bars.

"I think this team has same kind of fortitude," Penny said.

As for Sacramone, she is flying home Saturday and expects to have surgery Monday. The timetable for her recovery depends on where and how serious the tear is.

"Gotta get back home to get stitched up and back on that beam asap," Sacramone said on Twitter.

While there are less than 10 months until London, other gymnasts have made quick recoveries from Achilles injuries. Courtney Kupets tore her Achilles tendon at the 2003 world championships, and recovered in time to make the U.S. team for the Athens Olympics. John Orozco, a member of the U.S. men's world team, blew out his Achilles at the 2010 U.S. championships and was competing again in June.

And Germany's Fabian Hambuechen is competing at worlds just nine months after tearing his Achilles.

"If anyone can do it," Penny said of Sacramone making a comeback, "she can."