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China’s gymnasts tipped to excel before home crowd PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 July 2008

by Neil Sands*

China's gymnastics team is expected to make the most of its home advantage at the Beijing Games and challenge the sport's traditional Olympic superpowers the United States, Russia and Romania.
One of the most keenly watched Olympic sports, gymnastics' defining moment at the Games came in 1976 in Montreal, when Nadia Comaneci of Romania scored a perfect 10.00 points for the first time in history.
Comaneci, now a US resident, has tipped China as the team to beat in Beijing, saying the home crowd will be urging on their gymnasts and expectations will be high.
"The Chinese team is very, very good," she said earlier this year. "In the men's competition, I don't think any other team could be better than them.
"The women's competition will be very close. Of course the best will win but it's a great advantage to have the Olympics in your country. You have a lot of support, which is great.
"It would be difficult for everybody else to get a hand on the medals."
China has a strong record at the gymnastics world championships but has struggled to reproduce its success on the Olympic stage.
The Chinese men won the team gold for the first time at the Sydney Games in 2000, but failed to build on the achievement in Athens, losing the title to arch-rival Japan.
They bounced back at the world gymnastics championships in Stuttgart last year, winning five golds, a performance that would provide a record haul for China if it could be repeated in Beijing.
The Japanese, who dominated men's gymnastics in the 1960s and 1970s, will be hoping to continue their Athens success in Beijing and usher in a new golden era.
The best all-around men's gymnast in Greece, Paul Hamm of the United States, is struggling to make Beijing after breaking his hand in May while making a comeback after two-and-a-half years out of the sport.
Comaneci has nominated Hamm's compatriot Shawn Johnson and China's Yang Wei as potential stars in Beijing.
Yang has seven world championship golds and was part of the men's team that won at the Sydney Olympics.
Johnson, 16, is competing at her first Olympics after winning three golds at the world championships in Stuttgart, where the US women's team established itself as one of the favourites.
Comaneci's Romania will be a major rival after topping the overall medal tally in gymnastics in Athens.
All Romania's wins came from the women, but they will be without dual gold medallist Catalina Polor after she retired last year.
Russia, Ukraine and Germany are also expected to be in the running for medals, not only in artistic gymnastics but also rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline.
Regardless of who takes the honours, changes to the scoring system introduced since Athens means there will be no perfect 10s like those pioneered by Comaneci.
Instead, gymnasts receive two scores — one an open-ended mark measuring the difficulty of the routine, the other a mark out of 10 for how well it was executed.
In artistic gymnastics, men participate in six apparatus — floor exercises, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.
Women participate in four apparatus — vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercises.


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