China Wins Team Gold at Gymnastics Worlds

China won its fourth straight men’s team title at the world championships on Thursday, while the United States struggled on the pommel horse and finished fourth.

China led rival Japan most of the night, with Germany finishing third. A strong effort from Japan’s injured Kohei Uchimura could not stop the relatively untested Chinese, who returned only one member from their 2008 Olympic gold-medal team.

“We were already confident from the start,” said China’s Chen Yibing, the rings champion who leads the young team.

China finished with 274.997 points, ahead of Japan by 1.228 points. Germany was 3.745 behind the winners.

Unlike qualifying, the teams for the final were limited to three performers, increasing the pressure on the athletes because one miss by an individual could ruin his team’s chances.

China was far cleaner than Japan overall, with Kazuhito Tanaka bungling his landing on the rings and falling off the uneven bars to take the suspense out of the finish.

China set the tone with a strong floor performance. The United States started badly when Christopher Cameron botched his pommel horse, letting its worst apparatus get the better of it with several errors.

“We needed a really good start on pommel horse,” U.S. all-round champion Jonathan Horton said. “It didn’t really happen like we wanted it to, and so we kind of put ourselves in a hole. But we did a good job fighting back.”

Germany came into worlds with an injury-depleted team and went for safer, but clean, routines to earn the unlikely bronze.

“We hit all our routines and made no mistakes,” said German star Fabian Hambuechen.

The fourth-place finish was a disappointment for the U.S. team, which wasn’t in the hunt after a sloppy start.

“We didn’t expect them to do as well as they did,” Horton said. “I don’t think they missed a single routine.”

Horton had trouble with his floor routine, landing on his hands and knees on his opening pass.

“It was a weird thing that I had never done before,” said Horton, who is aiming for a medal in the individual all-around on Friday. “I felt really good, with the exception of the floor.”

The men’s and women’s all-around will feature Uchimura and Aliya Mustafina of Russia as the favorites.

China also had trouble on the horse with Yan Mingyong’s poor dismount costing his team the edge in its duel with Japan at that point. Uchimura also had one bad hand placement, but Japan still led.

Uchimura was spared the bruising rings to protect his shoulder. It gave the Chinese, relying on “Lord of the Rings” Yibing, the edge over Japan at the halfway point. They would not give it up.

China maintained its edge after the vault, and gold or silver rested on one error or a perfect performance. The Chinese fans were flying red-and-yellow banners and the Japanese their red-and white flags among the crowd of some 5,000 at the Ahoy Arena as the competition grew more tense.

The Chinese showed they could deal with the pressure. Japan went before China on the final apparatus, the high beam, and needed a great score.

But Kazuhito Tanaka made it easier for China, his fall increasing the margin. When Uchimura made a rare execution error, it was all over.

The Chinese were embracing each other with Teng Haibin still to go on the beam. After Teng finished another great routine, they celebrated another major win.

The victory maintained China’s perfect record in top competition since the 2004 Athens Olympics, when it finished out of the medals.