LONDON — A year later and half a world away, China is still the team to beat.
The Chinese won three more titles at the world gymnastics championships on Sunday, giving them a total of six. That’s as many as the other 70 countries won — combined. Their total of nine medals was tops, too.
“Our team performed very well,” said Deng Linlin, who took the title on balance beam. “It’s perfect success.”
And it might just be a preview for the next big gymnastics meet in London, the 2012 Olympics, which will be held at the very same O2 Arena.
Wang Guanyin won the gold on parallel bars, while Zou Kai added a world title to his Olympic gold medal on high bar.
Beth Tweddle gave the home crowd a thrill by winning gold on floor exercise, the second world title for Britain’s most beloved gymnast. Marian Dragulescu of Romania won the vault, his second gold medal in as many days.
The Americans won just one medal Sunday, a bronze on balance beam by Ivana Hong. They leave with five, all by the women, including a gold-silver finish in the all-around.
“I’m not upset at all,” said national champion Jon Horton, who struggled in the all-around and then fell off high bar Sunday. “I’ll be better for it. There’s nothing like completely falling on your face at a meet, particularly one like this, to pick yourself up and go, ‘Holy cow.’”
China made no secret of wanting to win all the medals at the Beijing Games, and it came pretty darn close. The Chinese won both team titles, all but one of the men’s events and one of the women’s events. The national anthem was played so often, it’s a wonder the CD didn’t wear out.
But like most countries in the year after the Olympics, China is going through a transition. Though it brought three members of its Beijing women’s team, only two of the men were here, with the rest newcomers. With no team competition at this world championships, China didn’t even bother entering anyone in the men’s all-around, preferring to see where their youngsters might fit best when 2012 qualifying begins next year.
“The men’s task here is just to study and communicate and try to be familiar with the venue” for 2012, Deng said.
Not that anyone noticed a difference.
Deng was part of China’s Beijing gold rush, but she was largely overlooked because she didn’t make any individual event finals. Indeed, the most attention she got was from the age controversy. Questions arose about whether Deng and several of her teammates were old enough to compete in Beijing — gymnasts must turn 16 in the Olympic year — but they were cleared after international gymnastics officials reviewed their original passports, family registers and ID cards.
But Deng has come into her own this year. She won the national title a few weeks ago, and now has a world title to go with it.
“It’s a pity that I didn’t qualify for any finals at the Beijing Olympic Games,” she said. “So this time, the world championships is a big success for me.”
Moving as easily on the 4-inch wide beam as if she were in a parking lot, Deng reeled off one tough trick after another, almost as if to say, “Oh, you like that? Well, how about this one?” There’s a delightful lightness to her flips and aerial twists, and while she had a couple of shaky landings, none was big enough to mar her overall performance.
Hong’s medal capped off a tumultuous year. A member of the team that won the 2007 world title, she was hurt much of last year and didn’t make the Beijing squad. She left her longtime coaches and actually took a few months off before moving to train with Valeri Liukin, who guided his daughter Nastia to the Olympic title.
“This just closes it up and made it that much more special,” Hong said, glancing down at the big medal.
Wang is one of China’s newcomers, but he’s already got the winning tradition down.
“I’m very happy in this trip to London,” Wang said.
He held some of his handstands on the parallel bars for so long, art students could have sketched him. His form was breathtaking, with perfectly pointed toes and ruler-straight legs, and he moved smoothly from one skill to another. There was no jerking and hitching like most of the other gymnasts.
And with a start value of 7.0, there was no way anyone was getting past him.
Likewise for Zou.
His start value on the high bar was a whopping 7.50 — a full two-tenths higher than silver medalist Epke Zonderland. Get through the routine clean, and the gold medal was his. He launched himself high above the bar with ease, pulling off tricks that circus acrobats wouldn’t try.
His only blemish was a low landing, forcing him to take a small hop forward.
But he knew it wouldn’t cost him too much, and he thrust his hands in the air, a smile crossing his face.
“It’s hard to compare. The Olympic gold medal, it’s more impressive,” Zou said. “But I’ve never got a world championship title, so it’s also important for me.”