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Li masterclass inspires China

By Stephen Wood
August 25, 2003 10:37 IST
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Li Xiaopeng's golden double gilded a day to remember for China on Sunday as the 37th world championships drew to a close.

Li, a graduate of the famous Hunan gymnastics school, successfully defended his world titles on men's vault and parallel bars as China secured four medals in the second and final individual apparatus programme.

Compatriot Fan Ye danced her way to gold on the women's beam while Huang Xu shared a silver medal on the men's parallel bars alongside Alexei Nemov.

Russian Nemov, the Olympic all-round champion and one of the most decorated athletes in the history of the sport, added further to his medals collection with a bronze in a high-quality high bar competition.

But afterwards, the 27-year-old said he would not defend his all-round crown at next year's Olympic Games, and revealed he planned to retire from the sport in 2006.

"I won't do all-round because I have a weak shoulder," Nemov, who still plans to compete in individual disciplines, told reporters.

"After the Olympics I will be around for two more years."

As Nemov was looking ahead to the autumn of his career, Brazil were celebrating their successful arrival on the scene.

For Daiane Dos Santos, a 20-year-old dynamo, tumbled to gold in the women's floor exercise and became the first Brazilian to win a world gymnastics title.

10 MEDALS

Li can now boast of 10 world medals after another masterclass in front of more than 8,000 fans at the Arrowhead Pond.

Under pressure to add to the team world title he helped secure for his country on Tuesday, the 22-year-old performed last on the vault needing to better Marian Dragulescu's 9.687 average from his two attempts.

With the help of a show-stealing Yurchenko 2-1/2, he sailed through the test, scoring 9.775 and 9.862 for a stunning average of 9.818.

"I am very happy, for myself and for China," he said. "It was a great night for us ... but already I know the Olympics next year will be even more important than this."

Romanian Dragulescu, world champion in 2001, had to settle for silver on the vault and Canadian Kyle Shewfelt claimed his second bronze in as many days with 9.612.

A score of 9.825 was more than enough for gold on the parallel bars for Li, with Nemov and Huang recording 9.762 each.

Li was even in contention on the high bar until his big rivals got going.

Japan's Takehiro Kashima won gold with 9.775 to add to his shared gold in the pommel horse on Saturday, while Italian Igor Cassina edged Olympic high bar champion Nemov into third place with an impressive silver.

In the women's section, Fan won the beam with a score of 9.812, from silver medallist Catalina Ponor of Romania and bronze medallist Liudmila Ezhova of Russia.

Another silver awaited Ponor in the floor exercise, as Spain's Elena Gomez -- the defending world floor champion -- was pushed into third by Dos Santos' eye-catching routine, which included a spectacular piked Arabian double-front somersault.

"I think this will mean so much for my country," she said.

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Stephen Wood
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