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U.S. Men Show Their True Colors

Underdog Gymnasts Overcome Injuries, Beat Long Odds to Capture Bronze Medal

Post reporter Liz Clarke reports from Beijing after covering the Olympic men's gymnastics team final, in which China won and an injury-plagued U.S. team held on for a surprising bronze medal.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 13, 2008; Page E07

BEIJING, Aug. 12 -- It was an unlikely band of Olympians that marched onto the floor of Beijing's National Indoor Stadium in red, white and blue on Tuesday.

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With no Olympic experience and no appreciable international credentials among them, the lightly regarded U.S. men's gymnasts were considered fortunate simply to breathe the same air as reigning world champion China, having barely qualified for the team finals after injuries sidelined its twin stars, Paul and Morgan Hamm.

But with heads held high, the hastily assembled cast of understudies and supporting actors staged a gritty performance -- brave, inspired but hardly error-free -- to win bronze.

It was only the fourth time a U.S. men's gymnastics team had earned a place on an Olympic podium. And it's doubtful an Olympic medal of any color has meant more.

"Every tear shed, and all the toil in life -- it's all worth it," said Raj Bhavsar, 27, who had twice been passed over for an Olympic berth before being plucked from the ranks of alternates two weeks ago.

China, as expected, won its first Olympic gymnastics gold, rallying from a shaky start to vindicate a choke-filled performance at the 2004 Athens Games.

With a different gymnast delivering its top score on five of the six mandatory events, China finished with 286.125 points, cheered on by a flag-waving, capacity crowd that alternated between chants of "Go China!" and "Go Yang Wei!"

Japan, the 2004 Olympic champion, took silver with 278.875 points.

And the Americans, who were well positioned for silver with two events remaining, held off Germany for the bronze with 275.850 points.

Houston's Jonathan Horton, 22, proved the Americans' chief asset, pacing his teammates on the rings, vault, high bar and floor.

Justin Spring of Burke threw himself into his high-bar routine with such vigor that he almost flew off the apparatus. But he hung on, thanks to fingertips of steel. And his daring whipped his teammates into a fist-pumping celebration.

But the clutch performance of the day came from Alexander "Sasha" Artemev, named to the squad less than 24 hours before the Games began, who salvaged the Americans' medal hopes on the team's final routine of the day.

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