BARCELONA, Spain -- U.S. gymnastics stars continued to fall on their laurels yesterday.
Jair Lynch, who scored a 9.90 out of 10.00 on the vault at the U.S. Olympic trials, fell while landing during the middle session of the men's compulsory competition at Palau Sant Jordi yesterday, receiving an 8.95 from the judges.
Later, Chris Waller lost his balance and sat down on the end of his vault, receiving a 9.025.
The falls of Lynch and Waller delivered a new reality to the U.S. men's gymnastics team, which calls itself "The Now Boys." The team, ranked fifth after compulsory exercises, now understands it will be now or never in tomorrow night's optional performance. The Unified Team took a strong lead with the top four individual scores.
"We're going to improve," coach Francis Allen said. "Whether we can improve enough is the question. We're 1.4 [points] behind Germany, so we've got a chance. They're tough, and we've also got to stay ahead of Italy."
Lynch said a combination of hard mats and sore hamstrings was his downfall; Waller said the mats affected him, too. But that failed to douse Lynch's enthusiasm for the optional team and all-around competition.
"Our optional routines are really hot," said Lynch, who grew up in Washington and trained in Columbia, Md. "They have a lot of originality. So the hard part is over.
"The mats here are really different [than those in the United States], much harder. I also have a sore right hamstring. It's so sore it's messing up my landing, and that's what happened. I fell on my landing."
Scott Keswick led all U.S. scorers with 57.775, finishing 12th.
Waller, who was 35th with 57.250 points, confirmed the tough adjustment to the mats.
"Yes, the mats are very hard," he said. "I slipped because of that. When they are hard, they get slick and slippery. On other mats, I would have stuck it."
In men's compulsory vault, a competitor gets one shot at perfection. A total of 93 gymnasts tested the apparatus and nTC landing mat with a stunning 77 scoring under 9.60, perhaps lending credence to the vaulters' complaints.
Those who adjusted ruled the day, and most of them came from the Unified Team, which danced toward the gold medal by placing Valeri Scherbo, Valeri Belenki, Igob Korobtschinski and Grigori Misutin first through fourth. China, Japan, Germany and the United States follow.
The U.S. men remain in medal contention thanks to a career day from an unlikely hero, Trent Dimas, who placed eighth at the U.S. championships and fifth at the trials. Dimas matched John Roethlisberger's 57.00 points, for third best on the team and tied for 45th overall. And Roethlisberger had to overcome a fall on the pommel horse, when he appeared to catch his foot on the horse while dismounting and scored 9.150.
"I just had the meet of my life," Dimas said. "Today was the end all. Everything I've ever trained for. It's been wonderful. It's like a party a big world party."
When you are competing against the Unified Team, not even that kind of a meet is good enough. Scherbo, the man from Minsk, the same town that produced women's gymnastics star Svetlana Boginskaya, was impressive in scoring 59 points for the six routines. He had no score lower than 9.70, with that in high bars.
The United States is not thinking of the Unified bunch, just about the Germans and perhaps Japan.
"It's not out of the question [to win a medal]," Allen said. "But we will have to improve."
And quit falling.