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 British men gymnastics team easily qualifies for home Olympics
January 11, 2012 11h06AM {data}2012-01-11{/data}{hora}11:06{/hora}

The British Gymnastics team qualified easily to London 2012.. Photo: AP

The British Gymnastics team qualified easily to London 2012.
Photo: AP

After an epic meltdown at the world gymnastics championships left them scrambling for a spot at their own Olympics, the British rebounded in spectacular fashion Tuesday.

Not only did they lock up a spot at the London Games with their blow-out victory at the test event at the O2 Arena, they firmly re-established themselves as contenders for even bigger prizes this summer.

"We couldn't have put in a better performance," said Daniel Keatings, one of Britain's star performers.

Needing to make the top four from an eight-team lineup, Britain finished almost eight points ahead of France. Its score of 358.227 was nearly 10 points better than its total in Japan, where it flopped to finish in 10th, missing qualification for the Olympics by a measly two places.

Tuesday's score would have placed the team fourth in the worlds. Daniel Purvis, Kristian Thomas and Keatings also had the top three individual scores in the meet, which doubled as a pre-Olympic test event.

Spain and, more unexpectedly, Italy also qualified to join China, Japan, the United States, Russia, Germany, South Korea, Ukraine and Romania in the 12-team competition at the London Games.

Britain hasn't sent a full men's team to an Olympics since 1992. With the women having already qualified, both British teams will be at the same Olympics for the first time since the boycotted games in 1984.

What will give Tim Jones, the Olympic performance director for British Gymnastics, even more pleasure will be the way his young team, which included Beijing bronze medalist Louis Smith and 2009 world all-around silver medalist Keatings, coped with the pressure. Expectations are sure to be even greater in seven months, what with medals at stake and legacies to leave.

But this was a good test, and the British passed it with ease.

"This full rehearsal has been a blessing in disguise for this team," said Eddie van Hoof, British men's technical director. "Although we'd rather not have had to do it."

Britain had been on track to qualify for London in Tokyo until it reached high bar, where falls by Keatings and Ruslan Panteleymonov and errors by Thomas sparked a collapse over the final three events. The British drew high bar as their first event Tuesday, and they quickly made it clear this would be a very different competition. There was barely a fault in sight, and a score of 58.107, second only to France on the night, gave them a start they weren't going to waste.

"Tonight, we had to prove we were worthy of a place at the Olympics and we did that," Keatings said.

Tellingly, in Tokyo, the team was able to count only one score above 14 in high bar. Here, it counted just one score below 14.

Keatings, who won his world silver in this very same arena two years, began each rotation and looked at home with a series of solid displays that steadied his teammates' nerves.

The British posted the top score on the floor exercise with 59.782, helped by a 15.400 score by Purvis in his best event, before blitzing their rivals on the pommel horse, where they are one of the world's best teams.

They didn't even need Smith to excel, with the 18-year-old Max Whitlock beating his more illustrious teammate by 0.1 with a score of 15.233.

After a better-than-expected routine on the still rings left the team comfortably in the lead, Britain was superb in scoring 64.165 on the vault to extend its advantage. With confidence oozing, the parallel bars were a mere formality.

The French, who missed out on a spot in London by about a half-point in finishing ninth in Tokyo, came through despite being without injured pair Thomas Bouhail, the 2010 world champion and Beijing silver medalist on vault, and Hamilton Sabot.

Cyril Tommasone stepped up in their absence, steadying the French with a 15.166 on pommel horse after Yann Cucherat had started the meet with a slip-up. Tommasone finished with an overall score of 87.631 points, good for fifth in the all-around rankings.

Italy was 15th in the worlds but improved markedly to claim a place in this summer's games, with Spain completing an all-European set of qualifiers.

Elsewhere, Epke Zonderland, a two-time world silver medalist in high bar, got the better of teammate Jeffrey Wammes in the all-around standings to increase his chances of earning the one available spot for the Netherlands. The 25-year-old Zonderland beat Wammes by 1.750 and is now likely to be picked for the London Games when the Dutch announce their decision,

probably within the next month.

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