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Chinese men dominate qualifying round

September 3, 1997

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ A brilliant performance on the vault by Xiao Junfeng boosted two-time defending champion China to the qualifying round Wednesday at the World Gymnastics Championships.

Olympic champion Russia still must compete.

Xiao executed his near-perfect vault to earn 9.887, the highest mark of the day, as well as wild cheers from the small but enthusiastic crowd in the Malley Sports Center.

China also swept the top three spots in the parallel bars to vault to the top of the standings with 224.394 points halfway through qualifying.

The Chinese excelled across the board, boasting a lead of more than five points over Belarus, second with 219.158. The United States, fifth at the Olympics, sat third with 217.245, ahead of Romania with 216.632.

The Chinese pulled ahead in their second event, the parallel bars, with each competitor scoring 9.3 or better, despite the tough new scoring system implemented for the first time at these championships.

Zhang Jinjing and Shen Jian, the only two Chinese gymnasts from the 1996 Olympic silver medal team, along with Li Xiaopeng, scored the highest parallel bars marks of the day, all earning over 9.560.

Despite the absence of Vitaly Scherbo, the winner of six Olympic golds in 1992 who left amateur competition immediately after taking the bronze in the all-round in Atlanta, Belarus managed impressive and consistent performances.

The Belarussians relied heavily on European overall champion Ivan Ivankov, whose scores were all between 9.437 and 9.525, as well as Vladimir Kasperovich, who earned the second highest vault score of the day with 9.650.

The American team, which featured three Olympians _ U.S. champion Blaine Wilson, John Roethlisberger and John Macready _ and three rookies benefited from the blend of experience and new blood.

Though the team relied heavily on Wilson, it was the newcomers Mike Dutka, Jason Gatson and Jay Thornton who flushed out the American’s scoring.

Roethlisberger, a nine-year national team veteran and four-time national champion, received only two marks above 9. Macready competed in only three exercises, with his highest score at 8.9.

The youngest U.S. male ever to compete at the World Championships, 17-year-old Jason Gatson produced several solid performances, including a 9.512 on the vault.

France, expected to qualify for the finals, suffered a series of disappointing performances on both the rings and the parallel bars, and sat seventh, out of contention.

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