Yang overcomes high bar fall to win gold

STUTTGART, Germany -- It was like the winner of best actor accepting his Oscar and then falling off the stage.

China's Yang Wei won his second straight all-around world gymnastics championship Friday in a performance so dominant, it didn't matter that he nearly barrel-rolled completely off the podium during his final routine.

Even with the ghastly mistake on the high bar, Yang cruised to an easy victory, scoring 93.675 points, nearly 1.5 over Fabian Hambuechen, who is quickly becoming Germany's next megastar.

America has one, too. Shawn Johnson won the title in the women's all-around -- jumping and smiling her way through a closing floor routine that will headline the competition next year at the Beijing Olympics.

The 15-year-old Iowa girl defeated Steliana Nistor of Romania by 1.25 points.

Brazil's Jade Barbosa and defending champion Vanessa Ferrari of Italy tied for third and shared the bronze. American Nastia Liukin put in her usual exotic, graceful performance, but a fall off the beam doomed her chances and she finished fifth.

On the men's side, Yang became only the second man to win back-to-back world titles. Another win next year in Beijing, and he'll be an Olympic champion, too.

"I'm not very happy, not very excited," Yang said. "Because this is not the Olympics."

Hisashi Mizutori of Japan was the surprise bronze medalist and Jonathan Horton added to the list of impressive accomplishments for the Americans this week, finishing fourth, only .2 points away from a medal.

Horton's fourth-place finish came a day after the Americans finished fourth in the team finals -- another sign that this program is recovering from last year's 13th-place debacle at worlds.

"I was disappointed at first," Horton said. "But then I looked at the board and went, 'Fourth in the world. That's pretty sweet.' It's just cool to think about, but I'm a competitor and I want more."

His American teammate, David Durante, finished 17th, a decent effort for the 24th and last man to make it into the all-around.

Yang, meanwhile, tacks this on to the team gold he won a day earlier in China's blowout win over Japan. And to the three gold medals he won last year, adding parallel bars to his all-around and team wins in China's romp through worlds in Denmark.

About the only thing missing from Yang's resume -- and it's a big piece, indeed -- is an Olympic championship. With this win, and tumbling in his own country, Yang will clearly be the favorite next
August in Beijing.

How bad does he want it?

"Ten-thousand percent, 100,000 percent and many, many other percents," Yang said.

Yang earned his latest victory by building more than a 3.5-point lead after five events with lots of high jumps, straight lines, great body position and no significant errors.

It made his fall off the high bar all the more stunning -- the ugliest spill of the day that came while he was trying to complete a one-handed pirouette. He rolled all the way off the mat and to the edge of the podium, his coach rushing to his side to make sure he was OK.

"That guy just bangs out routines in his sleep," Durante said. "For him to fall, it's a shock."

The fans, knowing their German countryman Hambuechen was in second, started buzzing, knowing that suddenly the impossible might be possible. But it would have taken two, maybe three falls for Yang to give away such a big lead.

That didn't happen.

"Well, I hoped a little bit, but I knew it would be very difficult," said Hambuechen. "And it's OK."

After his successful dismount, Yang thrust both fists in the air. A few minutes later, the score went on the board and he gave a big sigh of relief -- not usually the way this dominant Chinese team celebrates its victories.

Yang's fall summed up the story of what has, frankly, not been a great week of gymnastics on the men's side. The quality certainly wasn't helped by scheduling the all-around for only 16 hours after the team finals ended.

"When we walked in today, Tomita said, 'I hope you're not as tired as I am,'" said Hambuechen, who was fresh off leading Germany to a bronze medal in team finals.

Indeed, Japan's Hiroyuki Tomita looked tired. The last man other than Yang to win the all-around, Tomita was supposed to go neck-and-neck with Yang, but he started giving this one away on the first tumbling pass of the day, when his knees buckled on a landing, and then again on his second when his forehead and knees almost hit the floor.

He also went past the allotted 70 seconds on floor and wound up with a score of 14.225. And when he followed that with a gasp-inducing fall off the pommel horse, he was forced to play catchup. He got into medal contention going into high bar, but he fell there, as well, and finished 12th.

Elsewhere, Maxim Deviatovski positioned himself to salvage what has been a rough week for the Russians, in second place after four events with Tomita out of the running.

But on his landing after a flip through the middle of the parallel bars, Deviatovski failed to loop his triceps over the bars to hold himself up, and instead went thudding to the floor. He limped off the mat without finishing -- wound up in last place and joined two other teammates on the injured list for his bad-luck team.

The Chinese haven't had that kind of luck lately.

Yang joined Peter Sumi of Yugoslavia as the only back-to-back world titlist. Sumi did it in 1922 and 1926. Yang, on the other hand, has 2006 and 2007 to his credit -- and in 11 months, he'll have a chance to make another kind of history.