Japan, U.S. men lead way in qualifying
ATHENS, Greece -- Another showing like this, and the U.S. men's gymnastics team is going to have some bright, shiny souvenirs to take home from the Olympics.
And no, we're not talking pins.
Confusion on high bar
contributes to Wilson's fall
ATHENS, Greece -- A difference of opinion between judges and gymnasts forced American Blaine Wilson to change his routine with little notice, and he fell on the replacement move in Saturday's Olympic preliminaries.
During podium training Thursday, judges told the Americans that the move, a Stalder Hop Full, had been overvalued at world championships last year and wouldn't be worth the same amount this time.
In a Stalder Hop Full, the gymnast puts his arms between his legs and swings around the bar to a handstand. Once at the handstand, the gymnast quickly releases the bar, or "hops,'' and does a 360-degree turn.
At the last two world championships, the "hop'' added value to the skill, but the Olympic judges said it shouldn't have.
So, Wilson and Jason Gatson, who also performs the trick, opted for moves they've done before that are supposedly less risky. But that gave them only two days to polish up the altered routines.
"It's a lot to ask an athlete at the Olympic games,'' U.S. program director Ron Galimore said.
Wilson substituted it with a Kovacs, a backward somersault up and over the bar.
He fell on the Kovacs and hit his head hard against the mat, scoring an 8.862. Gatson scored a 9.337 after a long debate among the judges on the high-bar panel. Another gymnast, Brett McClure, left it in and scored a 9.662 after earning a 10 start value because of other elements in his routine.
"I don't think this will be the thing that will make or break our ability to be successful,'' Galimore said. "It's frustrating.''
Even with the confusion, the Americans wound up with the second-highest overall score on high bar in the first two sessions.
-- Associated Press
"We're right on track for what we had to do to get a medal," Morgan Hamm said.
Reigning world and Olympic champion China, meanwhile, took it easy and wound up fourth behind Romania. Apparently preferring to preserve their bodies for Monday night's grueling final, the Chinese did enough to make it through qualifying and not much else. They didn't break out their big tricks on floor, and scratched their final gymnast on rings even though it meant counting a score of 8.925. China finished with 229.507 points, almost three points behind the Japanese.
But no matter. The top eight teams advance to the finals, and scores are wiped out. Ukraine, Russia, Korea and Germany also qualified for the final.
Besides, being first in qualifying wasn't necessarily a good thing. The draw has the top team going first on the first and fifth events, but last on the sixth event. That's the gymnastics equivalent of icing the kicker, a 40-minute wait that's going to be excruciatingly long when there's an Olympic medal on the line.
And there's already going to be enough pressure because of the scoring format. Instead of competing five gymnasts on each event and dropping the lowest score, teams only use three gymnasts per event in the finals, with all three scores counting. That means there's no room for error.
But if the United States puts on another performance like this, it could have its first medal since the 1984 squad won gold at the boycotted Los Angeles Games.
"We try not to talk about medals because we have no control over that," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "We only have control over what we do on the floor."
While scores seemed high all day, the Americans appeared to be better than they were last summer, when they finished a close second to China at the world championships.
From the time they walked into the Olympic Indoor Hall to loud cheers and family and friends waving U.S. flags, the Americans were rocking and rolling.
They didn't count a score lower than a 9.212, and botched just two of 30 routines. Defending world champion Paul Hamm finished with 58.061 points, the best individual score in qualifying. Mogan Hamm, Paul's twin, was almost as good, scoring 9.7 or better on high bar, pommel horse and floor. But he isn't eligible for the all-around because he only did four events.
Five-time national champion Blaine Wilson won't make the all-around, either, after falling off the high bar. But Wilson responded with one of the guttier performances of the day. Though the crash left him so foggy he needed smelling salts to clear his head, he still competed on floor exercise, the Americans' next event, because he knew the team needed his score. He earned a 9.7, then closed with a 9.625 on rings and a 9.512 on vault.
And this is the guy who wasn't even expected to be in Athens after tearing his left biceps completely off the bone less than six months ago.
"Put it this way, when you want to puke, it's not good," Wilson said when asked how he felt. "I still have a giant headache right now, but I'm fine. I'm starving."
The fall might never have happened if Wilson hadn't been forced to do some last-minute tweaking of his high bar routine. Judges told U.S. officials Wednesday that a move Wilson, Jason Gatson and Brett McClure all were doing wasn't worth as much as it had been at last year's worlds.
Gatson and Wilson decided to replace it, but that only gave them two days to polish their routines. Wilson fell on the new move.
"I don't think this will be the thing that will make or break our ability to be successful," said Ron Galimore, men's program director for USA Gymnastics. "It's frustrating."
The Americans have made a steady climb since their fifth-place finish at the Sydney Olympics, winning silver medals at the last two world championships. But they'd like to climb one step higher here.
Their determination was evident from their first routine of their first event, the parallel bars. Guard Young was so still as he did a one-handed handstand he could have played one of those statues that was in Friday night's opening ceremony. When he saw his score of 9.637, a grin spread across his face and he told his teammates, "I'll take that."
Paul Hamm did him one better. Starting in a handstand, he flipped around into another handstand without swaying at all to stop his momentum. The crowd oohed and aahed, and the judges obviously liked it, too, giving him a 9.762, his best score of the night.
He also impressed on the high bar. He does three straight release moves, tossing himself up and over the bar with such ease and certainty he should be in a circus, not a gym.
But the Americans do have areas they can clean up. Pommel horse was a struggle, as always, and they could have been more secure on some of their landings.
"If you're going to have struggles, it's better to have them the first day," Young said. "If you go out perfect the first day, you might not look sharp in the finals."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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