TOKYO -- Looking vulnerable after an ordinary performance in qualifying, the Chinese came roaring back to win their fifth straight title at the world gymnastics championships on Wednesday night.
China finished with 275.161 points, more than 2 ahead of Japan and the United States, and walked off the floor with their index fingers held aloft -- as if there's a doubt who is No. 1.
"We aim for gold," Zou Kai said.
And they have plenty of it. The Chinese have won every world title dating back to 2003, as well as two of the last three Olympic gold medals. Every gymnast on the floor Wednesday has at least three gold medals from worlds, and Chen Yibing has seven.
The Chinese are so used to the goodies that come with their gold medals they didn't bother hanging onto the flowers given to the medalists, tossing them to their fans in the stands. But they beamed with pride as they listened to their national anthem.
"It's exciting every time because you can always make history," Zou said through a translator.
For the Americans, it was their first medal at worlds since taking the silver in 2003. They finished a mere hundredth of a point behind Japan, something that will serve as motivation for next summer's London Olympics.
"Every time you get a medal, nothing changes. You get chills," said Jonathan Horton, who has a silver and a bronze from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
China has dominated men's gymnastics since 2006, running away with the team gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and all but one of the seven individual titles. They added a fourth straight title at last year's worlds, as well as the golds on still rings, parallel bars and high bar.
A similar gold rush was expected here. China returned five gymnasts from last year's title squad, and the six team members have a jewelry-store's worth of gold medals among them.
But after finishing third behind Japan and the Americans in qualifying, many wondered if China's reign was ending.
Not even close.
"I'm very happy because during qualifying, China was third," Zou said. "But we won in the final so it's very exciting."
A close third with two events to go, they pulled away with spectacular showings on high bar and floor exercise. Zhang Chenglong, the defending world champion on high bar, got such great height on his release moves it's a good thing the overhead camera wasn't zooming around or there might have been a collision. Yet he landed each with complete nonchalance, as if flinging yourself 12 feet in the air and grabbing a thin pipe on the way back down is a breeze.
Zhang pumped his fist as he left the podium, and his teammates screamed. They put on a tumbling clinic on floor exercise, with Zou Kai landing each pass so perfectly it was like he had flypaper on his feet. He pumped his fist as he trotted off the podium and the Chinese started celebrating -- not even caring that two-time world champion Kohei Uchimura still had to go on high bar.
They needn't have worried because Uchimura miscalculated on a somersault high above the bar. The home crowd gasped -- Uchimura doesn't miss -- and Uchimura sat on the mat for a second, his head bowed.
"It's kind of disappointing, honestly," Kenya Kobayashi said of the silver. "I believed we could catch China."
Instead, they had to fight to stay ahead of the Americans.
The Americans have been telling anyone who will listen that they think they can contend for the gold medal at the London Olympics. They'll have to clean up some of their errors here -- Horton landed his vault on his knees, his face buried in the mat, while 18-year-old John Orozco looked unsteady on still rings -- but they proved they've got the goods -- and the guts -- to hang with the best teams.
"It means we're really close," national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said. "It's only going to serve to strengthen our resolve going into London. The goal hasn't changed. We want to be on top of that podium."
Coming into the final event trailing Russia by about a quarter point for third place, the Americans erased the deficit easily with three exceptional high bar routines. Orozco's was silky smooth, one skill flowing into the next, while Horton and Danell Leyva put on the kind of cover-your-eyes-and-hide-the-children daredevil acts that X Games set loves so much.
Horton's parents put him in gymnastics after they caught him climbing a pole at a store, and he hasn't lost his love for heights. He threw himself up and over the bar once, twice, three times and then a fourth, the crowd oohing and aahing as he got higher and higher with each one. But each time he caught the bar as easily as if he was reaching out to grab a strap on a Tokyo subway car. He hit the mat with a resounding thud, his feet not budging, and personal coach Tom Meadows and the rest of the U.S. contingent in the stands leaped to their feet.
Leyva's routine is equally acrobatic, but in a different way, and stepfather Yin Alvarez was practically sprinting as he paced in the stands. But he had nothing to worry about, with Leyva doing skills as easily as if he was checking them off a list. When Leyva stuck his dismount, hitting the mat so solidly that he let out a primal scream as the rest of the Americans threw their hands in the air.
Their big scores -- 15.3 or better for each -- meant Japan would have to score better than 44 points to catch the Americans. And the Japanese made it interesting, with both Yusuke Tanaka and Uchimura falling off on high bar. But even with the fall, Uchimura's routine was so difficult and smooth it was enough to keep the Japanese in front of the United States.
World gymnastics championships -- Chinese men win gold; United States takes bronze - ESPN
Congrats to the men team and let hope we win the women team title as well.