China's effort lackluster


TOKYO -- Forget what the standings say. China is going to be eager for a do-over after a lackluster effort Saturday in qualifying at the world championships.

The Chinese scored 230.370 points and passed Romania for the top spot in qualifying, despite major errors on uneven bars. Romania, which competed Friday, scored 227.228 points.

But those standings are unlikely to hold up with the United States and defending champion Russia competing later Saturday.

The top eight teams earn spots at next summer's London Olympics as well as in Tuesday night's event finals. Scoring starts over in event finals, where three gymnasts compete on each event and all three scores count.

"The team had some mistakes, but I do not feel worried," said Yao Jinnan, who leads the all-around standings with 59.031 points.

The Chinese haven't had nearly the same spark since winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, finishing third at last year's world championships. But this showing, particularly their meltdown on uneven bars was a surprise.

Bars is China's trademark, with one routine more difficult than the next. The Chinese are as precise as they are elegant, and mistakes are few and far between. Not on this day, however. The Chinese had to count two scores below 14 after big mistakes by three gymnasts, including Olympic champion He Kexin. Think Kobe Bryant forgetting how to shoot, and you get the idea.

Tan Sixin got in trouble first, losing her rhythm on the low bar and needing to take a couple of extra swings to regroup. Her 13.866 didn't seem so bad, because teams get to drop their lowest score and China still had four more gymnasts. But Jiang Yuyuan stalled three times, including twice on pirouettes.

But He's errors were most costly. Her routines are filled with difficult, intricate skills, and she normally completes them with ease. But after throwing herself off the bar and doing a somersault behind it, she reached out to regrip the bar but was only able to brush it with her fingertips. She dropped to the ground as the crowd gasped.

He completed the skill later in the routine, but had another stall. She scored just a 12.733, and will miss event finals.

The Chinese did regroup on balance beam, posting four of the six highest scores so far.