Alexa

Not at its best, China still leads qualifying at gymnastics worlds

Not at its best, China still leads qualifying at gymnastics worlds

These early morning sessions at the gym don't seem to agree with the Chinese women.
Better get used to it, ladies, because this is what's in store next summer in Beijing.
The defending world champions were in first place after their qualifying session Saturday with a score of 241.175, despite a sloppy effort on balance beam, their best event. They also lacked their usual flair on uneven bars, and had only a handful of execution scores above 9.0.
"They got up at 5 o'clock this morning. That's not easy to do," China coach Lu Shanzhen said. "The jury was fair and it should be good enough" to make team finals.
But their stay in first wasn't likely to last, with perennial favorite Romania _ sure to get a boost by the return of three-time Olympic gold medalist Catalina Ponor _ competing later Saturday.
The United States, a pre-event favorite, and reigning bronze medalist Russia are in Sunday's qualifying session. The top eight teams make the finals, which are Wednesday.
China has only two carryovers from last year's world champion team, Cheng Fei and He Ning. They left Zhou Zhuoru and Olympic bronze medalist Zhang Nan at home, and are trusting defense of their gold to three 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old.
Or maybe they're just looking ahead.
"They are prepared to make mistakes," Lu said. "They know it's going to happen. It's OK. We have some young gymnasts here because it's better to have some experience before next year."
Gymnasts generally aren't fans of competing in the morning. Flipping and twisting high in the air is tough enough, let alone doing it half asleep or before the body has had a chance to really warm up. And it's not usually a problem, with most competitions held in the afternoon or evening.
But the team and all-around finals at the Beijing Olympics will begin in the morning thanks to a request from NBC, which wants to show the highest-profile events in the lucrative prime-time U.S. TV market. So many teams are adjusting their training schedules, and drawing the early rotation here at the world gymnastics championships might not have been as bad a break as it normally would be.
It still takes some getting used to, though.
China started on uneven bars, typically one of its better events, but there was room for polishing Saturday. Most of the Chinese failed to get full extension on their handstands, and their legs were far from the ramrod straight the judges like to see.
Li Shanshan, one of the 15-year-olds, had the biggest trouble. Flipping from the high bar to the low bar, she banged her knees on the floor _ a big no-no _ as she grabbed the lower bar. She also pitched forward on her dismount, needing to put her hands down to keep her from smacking her face on the floor.
Next up was the balance beam, China's signature event. But there was nothing authoritative about these routines _ far from it. Cheng and Xiao Sha both fell, and He and Yang Yilin also had wobbles.
Cheng won three gold medals at last year's worlds, leading China to its first world title and adding two more on floor and vault. She said then that her goal was to become an all-around threat for Beijing, and she's added the balance beam to her repertoire this year.
Though she has some nice skills _ her difficulty score was a respectable 6.9 _ she ran into trouble on a backward somersault with a full twist. She landed with one foot on the side of the 4-inch beam and couldn't steady herself, and was forced to jump off. She also had to take a big step backward on her dismount.
"It's their first competition, so points are not very easy to get," Lu said.
By the time the Chinese got to floor exercise, though, they were rocking. Cheng scored a 15.375 _ more than a half-point ahead of anyone else in the session _ with an acrobatic routine that had her soaring so high on her tumbling passes, fans in the front row had to look up to see her.
Little Li was a delight. She whipped herself across the floor as if weightless, punctuating each of her landings with a big grin.
They wrapped up the day with some monster vaults, soaring high above the apparatus and landing with solid thuds.
"Today's the first day, so many were not so good," Lu said. "They can get better."


Updated : 2021-01-23 15:53 GMT+08:00