Another event, another gold medal for China as Yan wins rings gitle at worlds

Saturday, October 17, 2009

China makes it 3 wins in a row with gold on rings

LONDON — China made itself right at home atop the podium.


A year after its gold rush at the Beijing Olympics, China won three of the five individual titles at the world gymnastics championships Saturday. He Kexin added a world title to her Olympic gold on uneven bars, Zhang Hongtao won pommel horse and Yan Mingyong closed out the day with a win on still rings.

American Kayla Williams made quite a splash, winning the vault title less than six months after making the jump to the elite level. How big is that? Think LeBron James going straight from high school to the NBA — if James had won the NBA title his rookie year.

Williams is the first U.S. woman to win a vault title. Rebecca Bross added a bronze on uneven bars, giving the American women four medals in three events at these worlds. Bridget Sloan and Bross went 1-2 in the all-around on Friday night.

Marian Dragulescu of Romania won his fourth world title on floor, particularly impressive since chronic back and neck pains forced him into retirement after the Beijing Olympics.

China dominated its first Olympics on home soil, winning both team titles, all but one of the men’s events and He’s gold on uneven bars. The Chinese aren’t quite so overpowering this year, with several members retiring. And in perhaps the biggest shock of the week, Chen Yibing, the Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion on rings, didn’t even qualify for the final.

But as He, Zhang and Yan showed Saturday, China is still a force.

He is simply masterful on uneven bars. She works quickly, looking like a hummingbird as she flies from high bar to low bar and back again. As if launching yourself into the air on a release move isn’t tough enough, she uses different hand positions to make them even harder.

Her difficulty score of 7.1 is, simply, monstrous, with most routines ranging from 5.9 to 6.2. So when she got through her routine without any major issues, the gold was essentially hers.

Chen’s failure to qualify was shocking, but he might not have won a third straight world title on rings, that’s how good Yan was. Rings certainly falls into the “feats of strength” category, yet Yan looked as if he was barely exerting any effort. He hung from the rings for several seconds, a move that would cause a shoulder dislocation for most people. After enough time had passed for the audience to be appropriately awed, he pulled himself slowly into a somersault and flipped upward.

He had a big hop forward on his landing, but it wasn’t enough to drop below the ageless Jordan Jovtchev, who won his eighth world medal on rings.

The world stage is enough to freak out a veteran, let alone someone who’s never competed at this level. But Williams took it all in stride. After posting the highest score in qualifying, she knew she had not only a shot at a medal, but a chance for gold.

And while Olympic silver medalist Oksana Chusovitina and bronze medalist Cheng Fei aren’t here, this was no slouch field. Williams beat the Olympic champion, Hong Un-jong, who fell on both of her vaults, as well as Europe’s vault champion, Ariella Kaeslin of Switzerland.

Dragulescu retired after the Beijing Games, weary of dealing with chronic back and neck problems. But after eight months off, he found he was feeling better and decided to give gymnastics another try.

“Why not?” he said.

Why not, indeed. He knew his routine was good when he finished, pumping his fist and saluting the cheering crowd. As he trotted off the podium, he spotted a group of Romanian fans in the corner of the arena and gave them a thumbs-up.

“I’m glad, because I’m still a competitor at the highest level,” said Dragulescu, who turns 30 in December.

Not just a competitor, a champion. He left the arena with Romania’s flag wrapped around his shoulders. When he neared those Romanian fans, he stepped out of line and held the flag aloft in triumph.

“I’m very pleased,” Dragulescu said. “Turns out, it was a good chance I took.”

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