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September 17, 2000
In the gym, it's Bear versus DragonSteve Keating
Defending Olympic champions Russia and world champions China set the stage for another gold medal showdown on Saturday after topping their qualifying groups in the gymnastic men's team competition.
China, without their top gymnast Lu Yufu, who was ruled out of the Games after injuring his neck in training, still had enough depth easily to earn one of six spots in Monday's finals.
Russia, led by Alexei Nemov, opened the defence of their Olympic title on a solid note earlier in the day, posting the top score of 230.133 followed by arch rivals China on 229.996.
Other countries to advance were the Ukraine, United States, Japan and Romania.
Long time rivals, China and Russia have traded positions on the podium at the last two major championships, the Russians taking gold in Atlanta but settling for silver behind the Chinese at last year's worlds.
China, silver medallists in 1996, turned in another impressive collective effort but failed to make the same impact individually, placing just three gymnasts, Yang Wei, Li Xiaopeng and Huang Xu in apparatus finals.
"There was a lot of mistakes on the vault, I was very disappointed," said Huang Yubin. "The score favoured Russia which is a bit unfortunate.
"But we are full confidence.
"We must reduce our mistakes but it has to do a lot with luck."
Nemov, a silver medallist in the all-round and gold on the vault four years ago in Atlanta, underlined his credentials as a multiple medal threat in Sydney by qualifying for finals on five-of-six apparatus posting top marks on the floor and high bar.
The performance left "Sexy Alexei", as Nemov is known to his many females admirers, first in the overall rankings with 58.361 just in front of the Ukraine's European all-round champion Alexander Beresh with 58.049.
The top 36 individual overall marks will also qualify gymnasts for a place in Wednesday's all-round final.
Belarus, world championship bronze medallists, failed to make the cut finishing eighth.
Belarussian star Ivan Ivankov, generally regarded as the world's best all-round gymnast, got his Olympic campaign off to a shaky start with an error-riddled performance in his opening event the floor routine.
The two-time world champion, who was ruled out of the 1996 Atlanta Games with an Achilles tendon injury, recovered enough to top the overall rankings at the end of the morning session but had dropped to 11th by the end of the evening.
The early revelation of the gymnastics competition are the 17-year-old American twins Paul and Morgan Hamm.
Competing in their first major international competition, Paul produced a rock solid effort through all six pieces of apparatus to place him fifth in the overall.
"We did very well. There were some spots where we made mistakes but when one had a problem someone else stepped up," said Paul.
Morgan sits well back in the overall but is almost assured of a place in the apparatus finals after finishing fourth on the floor.
The top eight on each apparatus qualify for finals.
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