Not ready to take tumble

In the spotlight today Men's gymnastics

Though China's Yang favorite in all-around, Horton has hope

August 13, 2008|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,Los Angeles Times

BEIJING - When Jonathan Horton went to the 2007 gymnastics world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, his mother told him to bring home an all-around medal.

"I told her, 'Mom, you're crazy. It's too soon.' When I came to Beijing, my mom told me to just come and have a good time. I told her I was going to win an all-around medal," Horton said. "She looked at me like I was crazy."

Horton's achievement at those world championships was almost overlooked because the U.S. women were winning so many medals - including Shawn Johnson's all-around gold.

But the 22-year-old from Houston finished fourth, just .200 behind bronze medalist Hisashi Mizutori of Japan. "That was pretty close," Horton said. "That was my first world championships. I'm feeling like I'm kind of on a roll now."

Two-time defending world champion Yang Wei of China is the favorite. Yang, 28, was in no mood to concede anything either after his team easily won gold. "I can be in a relaxed mood," Yang said. "I'm going to try my best to get every medal."

Horton said he understands that if Yang doesn't make major mistakes, the gold medal will be out of his reach. "His start values are so high," he said. "But after that, anything can happen."

Germany's Fabian Hambuechen finished second to Yang at last year's world championships and is feeling in the mood for some redemption. During the team finals yesterday, Hambuechen fell off the high bar, the apparatus on which he is the defending world champion. Germany finished fourth behind the U.S. in the team competition.

"I missed the bar. It happened. I'm not going to think about it," Hambuechen said. "Now I have another chance."

U.S. coach Kevin Mazeika agreed with Horton that it's hard to pick against Yang.

"He's a perennial front-runner," Mazeika said. "But whatever happens, we're witnessing an incredible level of talent in this sport that we haven't seen before. The all-around is going to be a great show to watch. The difficulty is going to be incredible."

David Durante, the only U.S. alternate who did not ultimately make the team, has been watching from the stands.

"Don't count Jonathan out," Durante said. He said Hambuechen and Hiroyuki Tomita would be in the medal hunt.

Tomita finished sixth in the qualification round but behind Japanese teammates Kohei Uchimura and Koki Sakamoto.

Each country is allowed only two gymnasts in the all-around and event finals, but it is not unheard of for a less-experienced gymnast to become suddenly injured and withdrawn after the team competition.

Durante hinted at that possibility when he said, "Fabian, because of his fall, and Tomita, after his first night here, have something to prove. So I expect them to have good performances."

Durante also tabbed Uchimura, a 19-year-old who is in his first major international meet, as someone to watch.

"He's been having great practices," Durante said. "He's an incredible gymnast. I'm pretty sure he's going to show the world he is someone to pay attention to for a long time to come."

The U.S. will also have Alexander Artemev, 22, in the 24-man all-around final. Artemev didn't even make the U.S. team until last week, when Morgan Hamm withdrew because of an ankle injury.

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