SABAE, Japan (AP) _ Russia's women made up for a dismal effort by their nation's men at the World Gymnastics Championships today, moving ahead of China into third place behind Romania and the United States.

Natalia Bobrova of Russia started with a 9.537 on the beam and never looked back, showing grace on the floor, power in the vault and control on the bars for a total 191.408 points.

That left Romania still leading with 192.570, followed by the U.S. team, 0.848 points behind. China dropped to fourth at 190.819.

The other teams will try to catch defending champion Romania in optional exercises Thursday through Saturday that determine the team champion and 36 finalists for the individual all-around title.

Russia's Dina Kochetkova, all-around bronze medalist in 1994, bumped America's Shannon Miller, the 1993 and 1994 champion, from second place in individual standings. Kochetkova stood at 38.762, with Miller 0.063 points behind. Gina Gogean of Romania stayed on top with 38.799.

But among the men, Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine _ once the Soviet team's backbone _ performed erratically, leaving Japan, China, the United States and Romania on top.

Russia's men, second only to world champion China in 1994, scored just 276.537 points in the compulsories and stood 11th out of 24 teams.

Only Dmitri Karbonenko, 22nd, and Evgeni Chabaev, 40th, appear to have a chance of reaching the individual all-around finals. Alexei Voropaev, the silver medalist in 1994, was 51st.

Belarus, whose team narrowly missed a bronze medal in 1994, was hurt by the loss of Alexander Shostak, who broke his arm two days before the competition.

Belarus was eighth at 278.061, and coach Vladimir Vatkini said it would be difficult to finish higher than sixth.

Ukraine, the 1994 bronze medalist, was fifth in the compulsories, scoring 279.274. Three Ukrainians were among the top 36 individuals, but Igor Korobchinski, the sixth highest scorer in 1994, fell off the horizontal bar and was 45th at 54.750.

Going into the optionals, Japan had 282.060, leading China by 0.012 point, the U.S. team by 1.724 points and Romania by 2.086.

There also was no change in the top two men, with Li Xiaoshuang of China, at 56.987, ahead of Japan's Hikaru Tanaka at 56.800.

Vitaly Scherbo, winner of six gold medals at the 1992 Olympics, moved into third with 56.674.

Still Scherbo summed up his performance with one word: ``Bad.''

Scherbo's teammate, defending champion Ivan Ivankov, stood 61st, and scored 7.275 on the bar after falling.

Coach Vatkini said Ivankov was treated in Israel and Germany for a shoulder injured this summer and then hurt the other shoulder, disrupting his pre-championship training.

``He wasn't really ready,'' Vatkini said.

The Soviet team won the championships eight times between 1954 and 1991.