Chinese male gymnasts are expected to add a team Olympic gold to their three straight world championships wins, as arch-rivals Japanese struggle to defend their title in an uphill battle in the team final on Tuesday.
The final is largely a face-off between China, the overwhelming gold favorite, and reigning Olympic champion Japan. But the Chinese seem to get the upper hand, both for home advantage and strength of its all-star line-up.
"In men's competition, I don't think any other team could be better than them (the Chinese)," said gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci earlier.
In qualifications, the Chinese men, thirsty for a medal haul to erase the memory of Athens failure, started their Olympic journey with a bang, edging second-placed Japan by a clear 5.125 points.
Not only veterans like Yang Wei, Li Xiaopeng and Huang Xu, but also upstarts like Xiaoqin, Chen Yibing and Zhou Kai did their share well to send the Chinese team to the top notch.
Multi-world champion Yang Wei, who was overall first, staged almost impeccable routines, complemented by equally strong play by his five other teammates. The Chinese male made finals of all six apparatus but vault.
If the Chinese can maintain their level of performance in the final, a team gold seems unquestionable.
Japan will find it even harder to defend their Olympic title, as leading figure Hiroyuki Tomita, who erred on rings and bars in qualifications, said he was not in form. The Japanese had hoped mistakes from the Chinese would give them chance.
The Chinese won their first-ever men's team gold at the Sydney Games in 2000 but failed to build on the achievement in Athens, losing to arch-rivals Japan.
They bounced back with terrific results in the past two championships, pocketing five gold medals in Stuttgart last year and a record eight the previous year in Arhus including the most coveted team titles.
The United States, silver medalist in Athens, was fatally hurt by the withdrawal of twin brothers Paul Hamm, the reigning Olympic champion, and Morgan Hamm, both for injuries. The two replacements obviously did not perform the level of the Hamms.
Russia, Germany, South Korea, France and Romania are also contenders for a team medal.
(Xinhua News Agency August 11, 2008)