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U.S. Men Gymnasts Advance

With four countries yet to perform, the U.S. men's gymnastics team locked up a spot in Tuesday's Olympic team finals with a better-than-expected performance during Saturday's qualifications at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium.

Competing without its stars--twins Paul and Morgan Hamm, who withdrew because of injuries--the U.S. squad clenched its spot with near mistake-free gymnastics, drawing on strong performances by Jonathan Horton and Alexander "Sasha" Artemev, who was added to the roster less than 48 hours earlier.

Placed in the first of three sub-groupings, the U.S men handily outperformed Italy and Spain, finishing with a score of 365.200.

Stronger nations were yet to perform, however--such as reigning world champion China. As expected, China, Japan and Russia vaulted ahead of the U.S. after the second subgroup competed.

But the U.S. was assured of finishing no worse than eighth (and likely better) after all 12 nations have taken their turn. Only countries with the eight highest scores advance.

"They did an outstanding job," said U.S. head coach Kevin Mazeika. "The goal was to perform consistent gymnastics, and they did exactly that.

After eight nations had performed, China led with 374.675 points. Japan, the 2004 Olympic champion was second (369.550). Russia was third (366.225); the United States, fourth (365.200). The final sub-grouping, due to perform at 8 p.m., consisted of Germany, Korea, Romania and Belarus.

In team qualifying, each country selects five athletes to perform on each of the six apparatus. Only the best four scores count.

The U.S. squad was put at a sharp disadvantage after losing Paul Hamm, the 2004 individual Olympic gold medallist, one week before the competition began. Morgan Hamm withdrew Thursday after aggravating a chronically injured ankle.

But the patched-together U.S. roster, which lacks a single gymnast with Olympic experience, acquitted itself well.

Horton paced the Americans with strong routines on the high bar and floor exercise, finishing with 91.650 points, the highest score in the first grouping.

"Before the competition started we all told ourselves, 'No holding back. We're here to compete like this is our last day at the Olympic Games,'" said Horton, who will advance to the individual all-around finals. "And that's what we did."

By Liz Clarke  |  August 9, 2008; 6:22 AM ET
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