China overcome spills to take lead
Monday, 11 August 2008

BEIJING, Aug 10 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - A crash landing off the asymmetric bars by He Kexin failed to stop China from upstaging an injury-hit United States team in women's qualifying at the Olympics on Sunday.

The two gymnastics super-powers are expected to battle it out for the gold medal in Wednesday's team final but both had to overcome setbacks on the opening day of the women's competition.

The 16-year-old He, one of the favourites for the asymmetric bars title, was reduced to tears after she slipped off while trying to glide from the higher to the lower bar.

But her high-flying routine was packed with so many intricate manoeuvres, including four stunning release-and-catch combinations, she still scored a respectable 15.725.

But such is the depth of talent in the Chinese team, they were able to make light of the mishap to set the benchmark with a combined total of 248.275 points. World champions the U.S. earned 246.800, while 2004 champions Romania's hold on the Olympic title looked shaky as they trailed with 238.425.

BEGAN BADLY

The day began badly for the Americans when Samantha Peszek injured her ankle in the warm-up.

They had only four healthy gymnasts in their line-up and knew there was little room for error as every score would count.

The pressure seemed to affect Bridget Sloan and Alicia Sacramone, who both incurred penalties for stepping out of the area on the floor exercise.

Nastia Liukin added to the day's drama when she failed to pull off a clean routine on her trademark apparatus.

The 18-year-old mistimed her dismount from the asymmetric bars and landed awkwardly before rolling back on the mat.

Like China's He, she was rewarded for the her jaw-dropping content, however, earning 15.950 to stay on course for the apparatus final.

World all-round champion Shawn Johnson kept her wits to top the standings for the individual crown with 62.725. Liukin was second with 62.375 and China's Yang Yilin stood third.

Cheng Fei lived up to her billing as one of the favourites for the vault and floor titles.

The three-times world vault champion produced two daring attempts off the apparatus to top the field with an average of 15.912.

Her floor routine was equally impressive and the scoreboard in the National Indoor Stadium proclaimed "Wow" and "Fantastic" as soon as she had nailed her final tumbling combination.

She drew a score of 15.750. Yang set the standard in the asymmetric bars with 16.650 and Li Shanshan's score of 16.125 on the balance beam meant the hosts led their rivals in qualifying for all four apparatus finals.

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