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2008 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Gymnastics

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The U.S. women's gymnastics team is shaping up to be the favorites to not only win the team gold medal in Beijing, but also take plenty of individual honors at the Olympics.

Four years ago, Carly Patterson became the darling of the gymnastics world by winning the all-around gold medal. Now the torch could be passed to 16-year- old Shawn Johnson, the 2007 world all-around champion, or 18-year-old Nastia Liukin, as the duo finished 1-2 at the U.S. Olympic trials in June.

Born in Moscow, Russia, Liukin is the second Olympian in her family. Liukin's father and coach, Valeri, won four gymnastics medals at the 1988 Olympics, including two gold, and her mother was a 1987 rhythmic gymnastics world champion.

Twelve men's teams and 12 women's teams, with a maximum of six athletes per squad, will compete at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium.

Chellsie Memmel, Samantha Peszek, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan make up the remainder of the women's team. Sacramone won her fourth straight U.S. vaulting title at nationals earlier this year.

There are a total of 14 events in artistic gymnastics, and that includes team events for both the men and women. Individually, each gender has the all- around, vault and floor exercise, but then there are differences. The men compete on the pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar, while the women have two less individual disciplines with the uneven bars and balance beam.

The U.S. men's team dealt with serious changes just before leaving for Beijing. Reigning Olympic all-around champion Paul Hamm withdrew from the team because his broken right hand was not sufficiently healthy enough for him to compete. Hamm also injured his rotator cuff while rehabbing the hand.

"I have put my heart and soul into my comeback and done everything I could to get ready in time to compete in Beijing," said Hamm. "After returning home from the preparation camp, I had a few physical setbacks, and it became clear to me that my physical preparations would not be sufficient to properly represent the United States and contribute to the team's efforts to win a medal."

Because of Hamm's injury, Raj Bhavsar, who was an alternate on the 2004 Olympic team, was elevated from alternate to the main roster for the Olympics.

Hamm's twin brother, Morgan, will be making his third trip to the Olympics despite some controversy. He tested positive for a prescribed substance without first getting the proper clearance, although despite a warning from USADA, he's allowed to compete on the team.

Jonathan Horton is also on the roster, as is rings specialist Kevin Tan, along with Joseph Hagerty and Justin Spring. For Spring, a native of Burke, Va., being named to the team is remarkable in the sense that he had reconstructive surgery on his knee after tearing his ACL at the 2007 Visa Championships.

Internationally, the Chinese are strong contenders to win plenty of hardware amongst the men. Yang Wei earned a silver in the 2000 Olympics individual all- around, as well as a gold medal in the team. Now at 28 and on the heels of 2006 and 2007 world all-around titles, he's ready to bring China to the top again.

Xiao Qin has won three world titles on pommel horse, while Chen Yibing is a two-time champion on rings. Additionally, Huang Xu captured the silver medal in 2003 on parallel bars.

South Korean Yang Tae-Young remembers the supposed injustice from 2004 when he was credited with an incorrect start value on parallel bars during the men's all-around final. He finished with the bronze medal, barely behind gold medalist Paul Hamm. The South Korean delegation protested, but gymnastics' international governing body upheld the scores despite admitting a mistake had been made. Now 28, Yang won a bronze medal at the team event in the 2006 Asian Games, although his main threat to medal would be on parallel bars in Beijing and not in the all-around.

Kyle Shewfelt garnered Canada's first artistic gymnastics Olympic medal by winning the gold in the floor competition four years ago, and he's back again for 2008.

Another intriguing story for the men will be the participation of Jordan Jovtchev, as the Bulgarian takes part in his fifth Olympics. The 35-year-old has three bronzes and a silver, but has yet to win gold. He won a bronze on floor in 2004.

As far as the women go internationally, China, Italy and Romania are expected to be solid contenders in the team competition. Specifically, Romania's Steliana Nistor finished second in the all-around at last year's World Championships. That included a second-place finish on beam.

Jade Barbosa, who was third at worlds, will try to become the first Brazilian gymnast to win an Olympic medal. That also goes for Italian Vanessa Ferrari.

Yang Yilin was sixth in the all-around at the 2007 Worlds and will be one to watch for the home country.

Commonwealth Games gold medalist Beth Tweddle will lead Great Britain's medal hopes.

RHYTHMIC

This competition, which consists of individual and group events for women, is highlighted by competitors using elements of ballet, gymnastics, theatrical dance, and apparatus manipulation. Gymnasts use a rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon during the event.

Russia has dominated rhythmic gymnastics in the past. Four years ago, Alina Kabaeva and Irina Tchachina finished 1-2 at the Olympics, but this time around the Ukraine's Anna Bessonova, who won the bronze, is could unseat the Russians to capture the gold. Bessonova won a world all-around title last year in Greece, but both Olga Kapranova and Vera Sessina of Russia are also hoping for gold in Beijing.

TRAMPOLINE

Chris Estrada and Erin Blanchard will represent the U.S. in the trampoline competition. Prior to this year, the lone American to compete at the Olympics in trampoline was Jennifer Parilla.

Anna Dogonadze, a 35-year-old from Germany, is the defending women's champion. Henrik Stehlik, also from Germany, won the bronze for the men four years ago and now hopes to take home the gold.

07/29 00:01:05 ET


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