China edges Russia to take early lead in men’s gymnastics

Jul 23, 2021, 8:59 AM | Updated: 10:22 pm

TOKYO (AP) — China sprinted to the lead in men’s gymnastics qualifying, putting on a clinic inside the nearly empty Ariake Gymnastics Centre as it aims to return to the top of the sport.

The Chinese’s total of 262.061 — fueled by four brilliant sets on parallel bars — edged out Russia’s 261.945 in the first of three qualifying subdivisions Saturday. China is attempting to bounce back after slipping to bronze in Rio de Janeiro five years ago and coming in second to the Russians at the 2019 world championships.

Reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy of Russia grabbed the early lead in all-around qualifying, putting together a steady 87.897, just ahead of China’s Xiao Ruoteng and Sui Wei.

Russian Artur Dalaloyan also assured himself of a spot in next week’s all-around finals with a total of 85.597, remarkable considering that Dalaloyan is competing on a surgically repaired left Achilles torn at the European championships in April.

The injury typically takes at least a year to recover from. Yet Dalaloyan made it back to the competition floor in just over four months. Sporting reams of tape on both of his ankles, Dalaloyan appeared to be just fine through four rotations. The pain, however, seemed to catch up with him on floor exercise.

The 25-year-old’s routine was respectable if not spectacular. He covered his eyes as he walked off the podium, then sat down in a chair and sobbed. He regained his composure in time to lead the Russians onto the pommel horse, and Nagornyy made it a point to go over to his teammate and shake his hand.

Five-time Olympian Marian Dragulescu’s attempt to reach the vault finals at age 40 ended when he shorted his landing on his first vault. The three-time Olympic medalist finished his international career by completing the “Dragulescu vault” he invented with only a small hop on the landing.

Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands, the 2012 high bar champion, won’t reach the final on his signature event after an uncharacteristically sloppy series of connections put him in 10th place after the first subdivision. The 35-year-old arrived in Tokyo dealing with a shoulder injury.

Host Japan, looking to defend the Olympic title it claimed in 2016, was scheduled to compete later Saturday. The Japanese delegation includes two-time Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura, who will compete as an individual on the high bar. The U.S., searching for its first podium finish since 2008 in Beijing, is also set to go later Saturday.

The top eight teams in qualifying advance to Monday’s team final. The all-around final will be held on Wednesday, with the event finals coming later in the games.

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