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US shaky in women's gymnastics qualifying

Posted by Shira Springer, Globe Staff  August 10, 2008 05:48 AM

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BEIJING -- From the moment the US women’s gymnastics team took the floor at the team qualifications today, something was clearly wrong. The normally confident gymnasts looked shaky with Winchester’s Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan tumbling out of bounds. The absence of Samantha Peszek on floor was also an indication of something out of sorts. Peszek sprained her ankle moments before the competition started, rattling her teammates and prompting last-minute changes in the lineup.

“We had a little tension finishing the warmup,” said US national team coordinator Marta Karolyi. “It gave us a tiny bit of disturbance to rearrange the lineup.”

While the women looked solid on vault and Sacramone positioned herself well for the event finals, trouble started again on bars. Even specialist Chellsie Memmel fell off the top bar on a release move, while Nastia Liukin fell backward on her dismount. Again, they were uncharacteristic mistakes for a team expected to vye for gold with the Chinese. Remarkably, the Americans looked strongest on beam, saving their most solid routines for last. Shawn Johnson looked particularly steady and she finished tied with Liukin for the team’s top score on the event with a 15.975.

Overall, the US posted a cumulative score of 246.800, not far behind rival China with 248.275. China was also shaky in its qualifying session. The two countries will battle for top honors this Wednesday. Both teams hope they got past their jitters today. With three gymnasts competing on each event and all three scores counting toward the team total in the finals, neither country can afford major mistakes.

“We want to do our best,” said Karolyi. “If we are disappointed, it is because we made mistakes and not our ranking. If we do our stuff on three up, three count, it will be a different day. We will have a very good fight with the Chinese.”

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