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China wins 5th world title in row

10/12/2011

TOKYO -- Looking vulnerable after an ordinary performance in qualifying, the Chinese came roaring back to win their fifth straight title at the world gymnastics championships on Wednesday night.

China finished with 275.161 points, more than two ahead of Japan and the United States, and walked off the floor with their index fingers held aloft -- as if there's a doubt who is No. 1.

"We aim for gold," Zou Kai said.

And they have plenty of it. The Chinese have won every world title dating to 2003, as well as two of the last three Olympic gold medals. Every gymnast on the floor Wednesday has at least three gold medals from worlds, and Chen Yibing has seven.

The Chinese are so used to the goodies that come with their gold medals they didn't bother hanging onto the flowers given to the medalists, tossing them to their fans in the stands. But they beamed with pride as they listened to their national anthem.

"It's exciting every time because you can always make history," Zou said through a translator.

For the Americans, it was their first medal at worlds since taking the silver in 2003. They finished a mere hundredth of a point behind Japan, something that will serve as motivation for next summer's London Olympics.

"Every time you get a medal, nothing changes. You get chills," said Jonathan Horton, who has a silver and a bronze from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

China has dominated men's gymnastics since 2006, running away with the team gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and all but one of the seven individual titles.

A close third with two events to go, China pulled away with spectacular showings on high bar and floor exercise. Zhang Chenglong, the defending world champion on high bar, reached spectacular height on his release moves. Zou Kai put on a tumbling clinic in the floor exercise, landing each pass perfectly.

The Americans have been telling anyone who will listen that they believe they can contend for the gold medal at the London Olympics. They'll have to clean up some of their errors here -- Horton landed his vault on his knees, his face buried in the mat, while 18-year-old John Orozco looked unsteady on still rings -- but they proved they've got the goods -- and the guts -- to hang with the best teams.

"It means we're really close," national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said. "It's only going to serve to strengthen our resolve going into London. The goal hasn't changed. We want to be on top of that podium."

Going into the final event trailing Russia by about a quarter-point for third place, the Americans erased the deficit easily with three exceptional high bar routines. Orozco's was silky smooth, one skill flowing into the next, while Horton and Danell Leyva put on cover-your-eyes-and-hide-the-children daredevil acts.

Ho
rton's parents put him in gymnastics after they caught him climbing a pole at a store, and he hasn't lost his love for heights. He threw himself up and over the bar once, twice, three times and then a fourth, the crowd oohing and aahing as he got higher and higher with each one. He hit the mat with a resounding thud, his feet not budging, and personal coach Tom Meadows and the rest of the U.S. contingent in the stands leaped to their feet.

Leyva's routine is equally acrobatic, but in a different way, and stepfather Yin Alvarez was practically sprinting as he paced in the stands. But Leyva stuck his dismount, hitting the mat so solidly that he let out a primal scream as the rest of the Americans threw their hands in the air.