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U.S. men's gymnastics team in prime position for gold

LONDON -- The Americans insisted for months they can contend for the Olympic title in men's gymnastics.

Another night like this, and they won't need to say a word. The color of their medals will do the talking for them.

While perennial gymnastics powerhouses China and Japan bobbled and wobbled their way through qualifying Saturday, the Americans proved they've got the big skills to back up their big hopes. They didn't count a single fall, and their final score of 275.342 was almost three points ahead of resurgent Russia.

"We're going to do everything we can to make it finish like that," team captain Jonathan Horton said. "I was actually joking . . . earlier, 'Can we just get the medals now?' But we've got one more day to go, and we're pumped about it."

The team final is Monday. Since 1997, when scoring began starting anew in the final, only three first-day winners have failed to finish atop the podium at either the Olympics or world championships.

Surprising Britain, which has a full men's team at the Olympics for the first time since 1992, hung on to third place after upstaging China. Germany is fourth and Japan, the heavy favorite, is fifth after several uncharacteristic errors by three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura.

Defending Olympic champion China, which has won the last five world titles, is sixth after a splat-filled day.

"We studied a lot about the American team already," said Japanese coach Yasunori Tachibana, who sent a scouting party to last month's Olympic trials. "So we knew it was going to be pretty tough."

Unlike qualifying, when teams get to drop their lowest score, there will be no margin of error in Monday's final. Teams compete three gymnasts in each event, and all three scores count.

The Americans believe they're better built for that high-risk, high-reward formula, and this performance will only fuel their confidence that they can join Bart Conner and his Golden Gang of '84 as the only U.S. teams to win the Olympic title.

Danell Leyva posted the highest individual score, John Orozco was fourth, and the team had the highest total on floor exercise and high bar. They had only three falls all day, and counted only four scores below 15. Every American -- Leyva, Orozco, Horton, Jake Dalton and Sam Mikulak -- made at least one individual final.

"Now is when everyone is finally, completely realizing how much we believe in it and today was definite huge proof of that," Leyva said.

The day didn't look so promising at the start, when Horton went spinning off pommel horse, his worst event and the team's. Mikulak, Leyva and Orozco followed with stylish sets. After slowly closing the gap in each event, the Americans finally took the lead with one high bar routine more dazzling than the next.

New York Sports