U.S. Men Flying High at Gymnastics Worlds

Mon Aug 18, 8:42 AM ET Add Sports - AP to My Yahoo!

By NANCY ARMOUR, AP Sports Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Well, this is quite the switch. The American men are rocking, and it's the women who are reeling.

The U.S. men won the preliminaries in the World Gymnastics Championships on Sunday, serving notice they're no longer the doormats they've been the past two decades. The women, meanwhile, will limp into team finals, their lineup - and egos - bruised by a rough start to an event they were expected to win.

"We're so glad this is over," team captain Tasha Schwikert (news - external web site) said after the women bumbled their way through prelims. "We're going to go into training for the next two days and fix our little problems."

They'd better. Because the show they put on Sunday night was a little scary.

The women scored 147.697 points, probably good enough to make the top eight and advance to team finals, where scores start over. They stood in first place, but only two of 10 rotations were complete, and most of the top teams - Russia, China and Romania included - were scheduled to go Monday.

To be fair, the Americans did lose two of their top athletes earlier in the week. Vault specialist Annia Hatch blew out her knee in training, and reigning balance beam gold medalist Ashley Postell (news - external web site) has the stomach flu.

But the women have bragged about their depth all year, and this was the time to put it on display. Chellsie Memmel, one of two alternates pressed into duty, did her job, finishing with the best overall score and likely securing a spot in Friday's all-around finals.

Not bad for a 15-year-old girl who hopscotched from the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic to training camp in Houston to California in a matter of days.

"I was so amazed with her," said Schwikert, the team's only 2000 Olympian. "`Wow.' That's all I can say for Chellsie. I was in awe. Her scores really helped the team a lot. It's hard being an alternate, and she jumped right in there and did her job."

She scored a 37.449 and didn't post anything lower than a 9.212. The Americans certainly needed every bit of it.

National champion Courtney Kupets (news - external web site) slipped up twice on her floor exercise, falling on her behind on her first pass and stepping out of bounds on the second. She scored an 8.462.

Schwikert showed very little of her trademark flash. She fell during her floor exercise and banged her feet against the mat during her bars routine, failing to crack the 9.0 mark on either event.

Carly Patterson, who has won every event she's been healthy enough to enter since last summer, didn't look poised to win this one. She had a great beam routine going, but fell on the dismount, scoring an 8.7.

"It's not the best we'd like to be," Kupets said. "But it's something to build on."

The men would like to build on their finish, too. Fortunately for them, it was a lot more solid then the women's.

Rebounding after a rocky start, they let everyone know they're not the same guys who haven't won a team medal at the Olympics since Bart Conner and his Golden Gang in 1984. They finished prelims with 227.743 points, almost seven-tenths of a point ahead of second-place Japan.

After struggling through the floor exercise, their first event, the U.S. men found more trouble on the pommel horse. Blaine Wilson peeled off of it, and Morgan Hamm landed his dismount on his head.

But Brett McClure settled the team with a solid pommel horse routine, and the Americans went into full show-off mode. They didn't score anything lower than a 9.2 the rest of the way, and were the only team to finish in the top 10 in every event.

"I'd say we're a dangerous team," said Stacy Maloney, the Hamms' coach. "We got everyone's attention, including China. When I was over there, I had people telling me there was no way we could beat them. But I think there is."

China, the gold medalists at the Sydney Olympics, was third and Romania was fourth. Perennial powerhouse Russia was in sixth.

The most stunning finish was Belarus, who faltered after losing a gymnast to an Achilles' tendon injury midway through Saturday night's competition. The world champs not only missed the team finals, they missed an Olympic spot by just 0.012 points.

"It shows what this team is capable of," said Ron Galimore, men's program director for USA Gymnastics. "We had a plan, and this shows it's working. It shows the direction and the depth of the program and the character and heart of the gymnasts."

Article Copyright Associated Press