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Liukin wins silver in uneven bars, nears Miller's U.S. record

9/8/2007

STUTTGART, Germany -- Nastia Liukin fell short of an
individual gold medal again.

Maybe the Chinese can give her one of theirs.

China won three of the five event finals at the world gymnastics
championships Saturday, bringing their stash of gold to five -- and
there's still another day to go. Cheng Fei won her second straight
title on vault, Chen Yibing repeated on still rings and Xiao Qin
won a third gold medal on pommel horse.

Liukin, meanwhile, was edged by teeny Ksenia Semenova of Russia
on uneven bars, a day after a fall off the balance beam spoiled any
chances of winning the all-around title. Semenova won the gold by
.050 points, forcing the American to settle for silver for a second
straight year.

"A medal's always great. Gold obviously would have been a lot
better, but I had a step on the landing so that cost me the gold,"
said Liukin, who now has eight medals from the world championships,
all since 2005.

"But I'm happy with my performance and just being able to come
back from last night," she said. "It was a little difficult,
especially after the fall and being out of the medals last night.
But to come back and get a medal for the U.S. and myself, it's a
good thing."

Alicia Sacramone won bronze on vault, adding to the silver she
won last year. The American men built on their solid showing at
worlds, with fourth-place finishes by Kevin Tan on still rings and
Guillermo Alvarez on floor. Sasha Artemev was sixth on pommel
horse.

"Going into Beijing next year, we're definitely shooting for
that podium," Tan said. "Being in fourth place puts us in a good
position to be noticed next year."

Diego Hypolito won the other event final, regaining his title on
floor. The Brazilian won gold on floor in 2005, but finished second
to Romania's Marian Dragulescu last year.

Both Dragalescu (back) and Olympic floor champ Kyle Shewfelt
(broken tibias) missed worlds with injuries. Even if they were
healthy, topping Hypolito would have been tough. He landed his
tumbling passes as solidly as if he was doing simple cartwheels --
which he most definitely wasn't -- and his strength moves were
impressive and fluid.

When he finished, he hugged his coach and sat along the
sidelines, nervously eyeing the scoreboard. When he saw he was the
winner, there were more hugs -- and congratulations from big sister
and fellow gymnast, Daniele, who turned 23 on Saturday. Diego gave
his sister the flowers he got as a present.

"I will buy her something," he said, "but I couldn't go out
from the hotel."

The Chinese could open their own flower store with all the
bouquets they've gotten here.

They won a record eight golds last year, including a sweep of
the team titles. But improving upon or even matching that mark
wasn't the concern this time around. They've got their eye on next
summer, when China hosts its first Olympics. The joke is that the
Chinese want to win all of the gold medals in gymnastics.

And with what they're doing here, it might not be such a joke.
The men breezed to their third straight team title, and Yang Wei
became the first man since 1926 to repeat as the all-around
champion.
"They're going to be formidable, there's no question about
it," said Ron Brant, coordinator of the U.S. men's team. "It's in
their country, they're going to have their home advantage."

They're also going to have deep teams. The Chinese women left
Pang Panpan, a member of last year's world team, and Olympic bronze
medalist Zhang Nan home, brought three 15-year-olds in their place,
and still managed to claim the silver medal in the team
competition.

While the men's team has more titles than England's royal
family, it also brought Zou Kai. Zou, 19, is competing at only his
second worlds, and is already one of the best on floor.

"The more the better," said Lu Shanzhen, coach of China's
women's team. "We'd like to get more younger gymnasts to have more
difficult technique so we'll have a bigger group to choose from."

Just what the rest of the world wants to hear.

Cheng started the heavy-metal barrage Saturday. While she packs
more power into her vaults than anyone else, soaring high above the
apparatus, what sets her apart are her catlike reflexes. There's no
wiggling or wriggling when she lands. Just a thud into the mat and
she immediately throws her hands up to salute the judges.

Hong Su Jong of North Korea got the silver, and Sacramone the
bronze.

"I was just a little bit upset that I didn't make the landing
[on my second vault] the way I wanted to. But I still got one of
the medals, so I'm happy," Sacramone said.

"I'm happy I even came home with a medal in vault because it
was such a high-level competition this year."

Xiao is a master on pommel horse. His body almost looks
two-dimensional as he swings around the pommel horse, his hips
swiveling and his upper body staying still. His legs stay so
perfectly together there's got to be some glue involved.

And when he did his flares -- scissor-kicking his legs up, over
and behind the horse -- the crowd went crazy. His score of 16.3 was
.6 points ahead of Krisztian Berki of Hungary.

On rings, former world champions Yuri Van Gelder and Jordan
Jovtchev both put up quite a challenge for Chen. Jovtchev, showing
no sign of his 34 years, held himself so still as he balanced in an
"L" position, he could have been a piece in a museum. Van
Gelder's shoulders and neck were red from the effort he put in.

But Chen went last, and he was the best of the bunch. He moved
from one strength move to another with as little difficulty as
other people have flexing their muscles. And no matter how many
flips and tumbles he did, the support cables barely moved.

He finished with a 16.7, edging Van Gelder (16.625) and Jovtchev
(16.575).

"For me, it's too hard to judge the other people. Between the
Chinese and Yuri, it's really hard to say who is better," Jovtchev
said.

In the medals race, the Chinese are definitely better than
anyone else. And they might not be done. Cheng will compete on
floor exercise Sunday, trying to defend her title there, and Yang
will try to repeat as the parallel bars champion.

And 11 months from now, there will be more medals to be won.

"I'm not sure," Japan's Hiroyuki Tomita said when asked if his
team can catch China next summer. "But I think when we do our best
at the Olympics and try to perform our routines with the best
scores, than maybe it's possible. We'll just try and do our best."