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Coloradan leads U.S. gymnasts to bronze

Clay Latimer
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
AP Photo/Odd AndersenU.S. gymnasts Justin Spring, Raj Bhavsar, Alexander Artemev and Joey Hagerty pose with their medals after winning the bronze medal in the men's team final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Tuesday.
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BEIJING ” The Miracle on the Mat?

Dream on.

The Americans were too inexperienced, too beat up, too raw and overmatched to win a medal in the men’s gymnastics team finals today (Monday night, U.S. time) at National Indoor Stadium.

But there was Sasha Artemev of Highlands Ranch – an 11th-hour fill-in – stepping up to the pommel horse with an Olympic medal on the line.

Tension?

It felt suffocating, but on the final event of a stunning day, Artemev did the unthinkable for his all-rookie team, going from spectator to savior with a dazzling bronze-medal-winning routine.

“You’re the man,” a teammate screamed as they engulfed Artemev.

At the U.S. Olympic Trials, Artemev botched three of four routines in the pommel, a humiliating moment for a man who had won the bronze in the 2006 world championships.

But on the biggest stage, he was the biggest man, scoring 15.350 after two teammates had come undone moments earlier.

China won the gold with 286.125 points and Japan took the silver.

The Chinese began celebrating even before one of their gymnasts finished the last event. When little Zou Kai’s feet hit the mat with a thud, his teammates jumped up and down. They stood behind a large Chinese flag, tears flowing.

The Chinese have won seven of the past eight world titles, including the past three, and have more individual titles than a royal family. For all that, though, they were still considered underachievers.

There was only one Olympic title during this reign, and their collapse four years ago was one of epic proportions.

Not only did they not win the gold they were supposed to, they went home with just two medals, only one gold.

But the failure fueled China, as did all those chants of “Jia You” that rang out throughout.

The U.S., which surprised many by even advancing to the finals, finished with 275.850 points.

“This is the most incredible team I’ve ever been on,” said Jonathan Horton after the U.S. won only its second team medal in 24 years.

When Kevin Tan opened on pommel with an unusually low score of 12.775, Raj Bhavsar followed with a 13.750. The Americans were watching an almost certain medal slip away, leaving Artemev in the ultimate high-risk spot.

The U.S was on its heels coming into the Games.

Reigning Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm withdrew from the team July 28 with injuries. Morgan, his twin brother, pulled out two days before qualifying. Bhavsar, of Houston, was named to replace Paul, another crushing blow to Artemev, who was watching on TV when he found out Morgan had pulled out.

When the Hamm brothers pulled out, the U.S. turned to Artemev and Bhavsar because pommel suddenly was its weakest event.

But Artemev never even had stepped inside the National Indoor Stadium until Saturday, the day for qualifying.

Yet his bold performance energized the Americans, helping them land on center stage today.

“We kind of like this position because we want to creep up there and surprise some people,” he said Saturday.

In a three-up, three-count format, the team that emphasizes consistency over high-risk routines frequently wins. For that reason, Artemev competed only on pommel horse.

1. China (Chen Yibing; Huang Xu; Li Xiaopeng; Xiao Qin; Yang Wei; Zou Kai), 286.125. 2. Japan (Takehiro Kashima; Takuya Nakase; Makoto Okiguchi; Koki Sakamoto; Hiroyuki Tomita; Kohei Uchimura), 278.875. 3. United States (Sasha Artemev, Highlands Ranch; Raj Bhavsar, Houston; Joey Hagerty, Rio Rancho, N.M.; Jonathan Horton, Houston; Justin Spring, Burke, Va.; Kevin Tan, Fremont, Calif.), 275.850. 4. Germany (Thomas Andergassen; Philipp Boy; Fabian Hambuechen; Robert Juckel; Marcel Nguyen; Evgenij Spiridonov), 274.600. 5. South Korea (Kim Daeeun; Kim Jihoon; Kim Seungil; Kim Soomyun; Yang Taeyoung; Yoo Wonchul), 274.375. 6. Russia (Maxim Devyatovskiy; Anton Golotsutskov; Sergey Khorokhordin; Nikolay Kryukov; Konstantin Pluzhnikov; Yury Ryazanov), 274.300. 7. Romania (Adrian Bucur; Marian Dragulescu; Flavius Koczi; Daniel Popescu; Razvan Selariu; Robert Stanescu), 274.175. 8. France (Thomas Bouhail; Benoit Caranobe; Yann Cucherat; Dimitri Karbanenko; Danny Pinheiro Rodrigues; Hamilton Sabot), 272.875.


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