U.S. fifth in men's gymnastics team finals; Japan wins silver after protest

There wasn't much to smile about for Danell Leyva and Team USA in the men's team gymnastics competition. (AP)

After a surprising bronze medal in Beijing and an even more surprising first-place finish in Saturday's qualifiying round, the U.S. men's gymnastics team was dreaming of even bigger things in the team finals Monday.

But those dreams were shattered quickly and emphatically in a competition where the U.S. was never in the gold medal running. The Americans rallied to place fifth after standing in eighth -- dead last -- after three of the six rotations, but still finished 1.759 points behind surprise bronze medalist Great Britain.

China took the gold medal with 275.997, a decisive 6.045 points ahead of the Americans' 269.952.

Japan won the silver -- but only after a protest by the Japanese coaches regarding all-around favorite Kohei Uchimura's score on the pommel horse, his team's final routine of the competition. After initially announcing that Britain had won the silver (the host nation's first medal in this event in a century) and Ukraine had earned a stunning bronze, officials upgraded Uchimura's score after the protest, which handed Japan the silver, the Brits the bronze, and knocked Ukraine off the podium. 

The U.S.'s hopes of gold were all-but-finished after the second rotation, a disastrous performance on the team's weakest apparatus, the pommel horse. Danell Leyva finished first overall in the individual all-around standings in qualification, but fell off the horse early in his performance and scored a substandard 13.4. Fellow national champion John Orozco was even worse, enduring multiple major breaks in his routine and posting a 12.733.

The U.S. scored only 40.633 for the event, leaving them in seventh place.

Buoyed by 2008 star Jonathan Horton, a stronger showing on the rings and a total score of 45.257 stabilized the U.S.'s downward slide. But it wasn't enough to keep the U.S. from dropping to last place at the halfway point of the competition.

An ugly landing for Orozco on the vault -- the event's highest-scoring apparatus -- meant that even though the U.S. moved up to seventh after that fourth rotation, their medal chances were virtually finished. Solid-but-not-spectacular performances from Levya, Orozco, and Sam Mikulak on the parallel bars took the U.S. to sixth with five rotations completed.

The U.S. went to their best event, the high bar, on their final rotation. Orozco, Horton, and Leyva turned in three of the U.S.'s best routines of the competition, but it wasn't enough to get the U.S. back in medal contention.

Leyva and floor specialist Jake Dalton each earned scores above 15 on the floor exercise in the U.S.'s first rotation, giving the U.S. the third-best total in that event. They also finished third on the high bar and parallel bars, and fourth on rings. But the pommel total placed them seventh, and their vaults were only sixth.

Despite their having won gold in both Sydney and Beijing, China's gold medal comes as something of a surprise after they dropped an injured top gymnast and struggled badly in both the "podium training" dress rehearsals and the qualification rounds. But their third gold in four Olympics was only briefly in doubt Monday as they surged to an early lead, were never seriously challenged, and won by four full points.

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