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Chinese Gymnasts Face Strong US Rivals

An inspired US team is poised to dethrone the reigning Olympic and world champion the Chinese men's gymnastic team which had dominated for the last several years.

On the heels of an unexpected dynamic and triumphant shows in last year's Anaheim World Championships where it finished second behind China, team members feel the Athens Games is the right time to beat the Chinese.

"From the last World Championships we just realized that they are beatable," said Paul Hamm, the reigning men's all-round world champion.

The US men's team has only won Olympic medals only twice - winning a silver in 1932 and a gold at 1984 Los Angeles Games, which was boycotted by the former Soviet Union.

But China had won the event five times in the last six world championships and won its first Olympic title four years ago in Sydney.

Headed by 14-time world champion Li Xiaopeng, China has set its sight on the gold medal and is very likely to continue its dominance of the event.

"China is the team that we feel is the favourite going into the Olympic Games and is probably one of the strongest teams in the world right now," said Hamm.

"I think it's a time that we are looking to challenge for the gold medal.

"I feel the US team is bigger and stronger and if we do our job and do our greatest performance, we have a chance to beat them," said Hamm who landed the historic all-round world title for the US last year, a first for his nation.

His teammates agreed.

"We have experience being on the podium and we've not been used to that, but now we are hungry for more," said Brett McClure, a member of the silver-winning US team in the Anaheim tournament. "If we get it right, we will end up on the podium."

The coming battle is likely to be a battle of consistency with the new 6-3-3 competing format by which the scores of all the three competitors on one apparatus will be counted instead of choosing the top three scores among four in the old format.

Kevin Mazeika, the head coach of the US team, says consistency will be the key to success.

"With a little bit more consistency, we can do it (beat the Chinese team)," said Mazeika. "This is possible because we are that close in the world championships."

China won the gold in Anaheim with 171.996 points compared to United States 171.121, the smallest margin in years.

"It has been a long way for us to become a medal contender in the Olympics and we are working hard and going for the top spot," said Mazeika who describes the current US team as one of the greatest in history.

He said the rivalry in the men's final which will be equally as intense with Japan, the bronze medal winner in Anaheim and 1996 Olympic champion Russia, will make it "one of the greatest shows ever" of the event.

"It's going to be incredible because there are so many strong teams here," Mazeika said.

"It will be a fantastic night."

The American's ambition has alerted the Chinese camp which regards the men's team a sure gold.

"We can't treat our rivals lightly," said Chinese team leader Gao Jian.

"We are close to our rivals like the US and Japan and we should keep our wits."

(China Daily  August 13, 2004)

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