Comedy of errors leave China nursing sore egos
LONDON (Reuters) - Guo Weiyang was left with a sore head, Zhang Chenglong was rubbing his sore bottom and the once-mighty Chinese men's team were left nursing sore egos after they endured a bumpy start to the defence of their Olympic gymnastics title on Saturday.
Four years after the team blew out the opposition by winning seven of the eight titles up for grabs, the class of 2012 often resembled the clown acts in the Chinese State Circus rather than a team who have not been beaten on the world stage for eight years.
With title challengers Japan and the United States set to compete later on the opening day, China, led by 2008 survivors Chen Yibing and Zou Kai, had been expected to top the opening session of men's qualifying.
Instead, they were usurped by hosts Britain, a nation who have not won a team medal of any color for a hundred years.
Britain took pole position in early qualifying with 272.420 points, a 2.435 advantage over China.
So unexpected was the result, it was little wonder Louis Smith broke down in tears while his British team mates blew kisses to the hollering fans.
Feeling energized by the support of the home fans was a feeling all too familiar to Zou, the only gymnast to win three golds in Beijing.
However, as he competed more than 8,000 km away from his homeland on Saturday, Zou started off the tumbling for China - except it was the variety that earned China deductions rather than any plaudits.
He stumbled out of the landing mat following his vault, and from then on, it became a comedy of errors.
Guo was drafted into the team at the last minute after 2004 Athens pommel horse champion Teng Haibin tore a muscle in his left arm but it was the Olympic debutant who was left aching all over.
His ended up on his knee following his parallel bars dismount before drawing "oohs" from the crowd after landing on his head during one of his tumbling passes on the floor exercise.
The 12.266 points he was awarded on the floor was the lowest of the 23 scores China earned on day one of the artistic gymnastics competition. With only the three best scores on each apparatus counting towards the qualifying total, China knew they could afford one sloppy performance on each discipline.
However, they will not have that luxury in the team final on Monday, when three members of each country compete on every apparatus, and every score will count.
"We should have beaten Britain but Teng's late withdrawal affected us and we did not perform as well as we should have. Guo came in as a substitute and he made quite a few mistakes because he has a lack of experience," said 2008 rings gold medalist Chen.
"We're not really disappointed because a lot has changed in four years. The other teams have improved and have closed the gap with us. But we are still confident of winning the final."
Worryingly, there were more than a few slapdash displays.
The team that regularly broke the 16-point barrier in Beijing, notched up six scores below 14 points and their challenge unraveled on the pommel horse.
Guo wobbled, Zhang suffered a crash landing on his bottom mid-routine while Zou's routine was plain ugly. Their scores of 13.266, 13.133 and 12.533 bore testament to their poor performance and signs that their hold on the Olympic crown could be slipping away fast.
(Editing by Alison Williams)
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