China Wins Gold Medal at Gymnastics Worlds

Wed Aug 20, 3:31 AM ET Add Sports - AP to My Yahoo! By EDDIE PELLS, AP Sports Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The American men had plenty to feel good about when they left the building, and not just because of the silver medals they carried out.

They did the right thing. They pointed out a scoring error in their favor that could have swung the momentum of the team finals of the World Gymnastics Championships on Tuesday night.

"Nobody wants to win like that," American coach Stacy Maloney said.

In fact, the scoring error was only 0.4 points and the Americans fell 0.875 short of powerhouse China (171.996), which won the gold. But the mistake came late in the meet, when judges initially didn't realize Morgan Hamm (news - web sites) had bailed out of a twist on his vault, thus lowering the start value of the jump.

Had it not been pointed out, Hamm's score would have been higher, and it could have ramped up the pressure on the Chinese.

"Who knows what would have happened," men's program director Ron Galimore said. "But this is the world championships. Nobody wants to win the gold medal without it being totally legitimate."

For the first time in a generation, the Americans have reason to believe they could be winning soon maybe next year at the Athens Olympics. They finished second at the last team worlds two years ago, but China brought a watered-down squad to that. This was their `A' team, and the Americans had them scared the whole night.

"We came over here to challenge the U.S. team, and we did a good job," China coach Huang Yubin said, as he reached over and shook U.S. coach Kevin Mazeika's hand. "The U.S. team did an excellent job today. They improved much from two years ago. I'm pretty sure they'll be improved next year at the Athens Olympics."

As nice as the performance was, the American gesture with the judges was just as notable.

Olympic sports have long been filled with people trying to push the envelope, or simply break the rules see figure skating or the latest doping scandal. This was a refreshing change, an example of where the teams, the judges and the athletes all got it right.

The Americans played down their role as saints.

"It was a pretty obvious mistake," Galimore said.

Nevertheless, the rulebook clearly states that teams may only protest their own scores. And regardless of who gets the credit, the whole sport looked good for at least one night.

Nobody looked better than the Chinese.

Yes, they are being pushed by the Americans. But when the pressure was on, they came through big.

Given a chance to essentially wrap up the gold, the trio of Huang Xu, Li Xiaopeng and Teng Haibin put on a high-bar display that had even the raucous pro-American crowd oohing and ahhing. They flew higher, kicked wider and grabbed the bar more cleanly than anyone else.

All three scored 9.525 and higher.

"We felt a little bit of pressure, especially on the last three events," Li said. "But finally, we just tried our best to focus and just hit our routines the way we usually do."

The closeness of the top two should make for an interesting Olympics. Japan, which finished third, and fourth-place Russia should be factors, too, and Romania is likely better than its fifth-place finish showed Tuesday.

But the U.S. men really are much improved since the leadup to Sydney, or in 2001, when they took silver at worlds.

They jump higher, stick more landings and come off much more polished. Five-time national champ Blaine Wilson (news - web sites) is still a threat, as he showed on a sterling high-bar routine, where his 9.787 was the highest U.S. score of the night.

Jason Gatson (news - web sites) appears all the way back from his two knee injuries. The Hamm twins are showing they're much more than a cute Doublemint commercial in waiting.

On Thursday, in fact, Paul Hamm (news - web sites) has a legitimate chance to show he's the world's best gymnast in the all-around.

"We definitely scared 'em," he said. "I think we made it clear that China's not just going to walk away with it like they have in the past."

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