Kohei Uchimura, Japan top China in World Gymnastics Championships qualifying

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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Japan sprinted to the front. China jogged into second.

Another showdown awaits. Just like always.

The Japanese men easily topped qualifying at the World Gymnastics Championships on Sunday, posting a score of 358.884 to finish well clear of their rivals as the two superpowers spent six rotations shadowing each other around the chilly SSE Hydro in what amounted to a dual meet.

An occasionally sloppy one at that.

Not even Japanese star Kohei Uchimura was immune to a rare slip. The reigning Olympic and five-time World champion tweaked his neck and shorted a tumbling run during his floor exercise. He smacked his thigh in frustration when he finished and rubbed his immaculately styled hair before making his way back to his teammates.

The greatest male gymnast of his generation recovered in time a steady set on pommel horse on his way to an all-around total of 90.564. Yet the graceful and understated 26-year-old didn’t stick around another Olympic cycle to chase individual glory. Beating China in a major international team competition is the thing that keeps him going, the lone hole in Uchimura’s peerless resume.

“I think we need strong guts to win the competition,” he said.

While Japan led all the way during its session, it won’t matter when the scores are reset for Wednesday’s final, giving the Chinese plenty of time to play Lucy to Japan’s Charlie Brown.

It happened in the 2014 final, when China trailed going into the final rotation only to nip the Japanese by a tenth of a point after Zhang Chenlong‘s dramatic performance on the high bar.

Maybe that’s why Zhang, the only holdover from his country’s gold medal-winning team at the 2012 Olympics, wasn’t exactly sweating a sluggish start inside a brisk arena that had Uchimura seeking the comfort of his white parka when given the chance.

“I don’t think (the mistakes) have any bearing on the finals,” Zhang said. “They are not any issue to worry about. They are exceptions, not problems.”

Particularly in a sport where China typically rules. The Chinese have won every major international competition over the last decade. Whether its qualifiers are good or bad, in the final China is the closest thing to a sure thing.

The Chinese’s afternoon began with a series of pommel horse routines that made it look more like they were riding a mechanical bull as they struggled to hold on. They settled down and recovered with a world-class parallel bars set, Zhang punctuating his 15.433 with a fist pump and You Hao following with a 15.7, the best score of the day.

Britain and Russia rounded out the top four. The U.S., the Netherlands and Romania scheduled to compete Monday, with the teams with the best eight scores earning an automatic spot in the 2016 Olympics.

The Games were hardly a given in Britain, which went a century between Olympic team medals until a stunning bronze in London three years ago. Now anything short of a trip to Rio de Janeiro next August and a run at the podium would have been a disappointment.

The Brits are almost certainly through even they — like just about everyone else — were iffy at times, particularly during a messy 20 minutes on high bar that forced them to get serious very quickly.

“You’re always nervous on your first piece, a different atmosphere and everything like that,” said Max Whitlock, the defending all-around silver medalist who narrowly made it this year’s all-around final after edging teammate Nile Wilson on a tiebreaker.

Britain came in a narrow fourth behind China, Japan and the U.S. at last year’s world competition, and that was without three-time Olympic medalist Louis Smith, who is back after a sabbatical to extend his run as one of the most elegant pommel horse specialists around.

“We wanted to just do our jobs today and let the judges take care of us,” Smith said. “We pretty much did that. We didn’t make many mistakes. We didn’t carry too many mistakes over.”

The only real drama during Britain’s session came in the race to see who would join teammate Daniel Purvis in the all-around final on Friday. The rules limit two final participants per country, forcing Whitlock and Wilson into a game of knockout.

Wilson seemed to deliver the final blow with an aggressively controlled parallel bar routine. The 19-year-old pounding his fist over his heart after sticking his landing while looking for his father in the stands. His 15.500 was spectacular but only good enough to move him into a tie with Whitlock, who received the second spot in the final through a tiebreaker that dropped the lowest score of each competitor.

Wilson shrugged off his disappointment, pointing to the pursuit of another team medal as the priority. There’s really only room for one spot on the podium China and Japan, who have finished either first or second in every world meet since 2007.

“All we need to do is to perform as normal, because there won’t be huge difference at the finals,” Zhang said. “It all comes down on how you complete the skills at the finals.”

MORE GYMNASTICS: Women’s team, all-around, event finals qualifiers

Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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