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Balance beam win gives USA's Johnson a gold medal at last

Liukin wins silver

August 19, 2008

BEIJING (AP) -- Shawn Johnson's smile was a thousand times wider than the balance beam she had just conquered Tuesday night. Finally, it was a golden grin.

The world champion made a habit of collecting silver at the Beijing Games, not a bad custom, but not exactly everything she came to China for. She ended her runner-up streak with a beam routine that blew away the field, including all-around champ Nastia Liukin, behind whom Johnson got one of her three silvers.

"It's crazy," the 16-year-old Johnson said. "I remember seeing Nastia have hers from the all-around and it is so pretty. Silver is really pretty, too.

"It's the best feeling ever."

Johnson won the gold despite a headache earlier in the day.

"This is what we expected to see," her coach Liang Chow said. "The thing I really am pleased with is she was a little under the weather and she still was able to do a wonderful routine."

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Wonderful also describes the Chinese men throughout these Olympics. They swept the two events Tuesday, with Zou Kai winning high bar and Li Xaiopeng winning parallel bars. In all, China took all but one men's event, the vault -- in which there was no Chinese finalist.

China's men won the team title, Yang Wei took the all-around, and the Chinese also took the still rings, pommel horse and floor exercise.

The United States got its only men's individual medal when Jonathan Horton soared through an energetic high bar routine that drew almost as loud a roar as Zou's performance. Horton also won bronze with the U.S. men in team finals.

The U.S women won eight medals to six for China. Liukin got a gold, three silver and a bronze to tie the record for an American in one games.

"I'm really happy for her," Liukin said of Johnson, her roommate in Beijing. "Three silvers is kind of hard to take. I couldn't be more proud of her."

National team coordinator Martha Karolyi was ecstatic. After a disappointing start, when the Americans bumbled their way out of a team gold that went to China, they came back with a surge of strong showings.

"This was the right ending to conclude the Olympic Games," Karolyi said. "We proved the supremacy of U.S. women's gymnastics.

"I feel excellent (about Johnson). I think she needed this so much. She proved she is absolutely a great balance beam gymnast."

While Liukin and Johnson were regulars on the medals podium, Horton's high bar silver in the men's division was somewhat unexpected. He was up against a strong field that included the 2004 gold medalist, Igor Cassina of Italy, and leading qualifier Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands and 2007 world champ Fabian Hambuechen of Germany.

Horton didn't flinch among such heady company, and coach Mark Williams was so excited after Horton's high-flying routine that he engulfed his gymnast in a huge hug on the podium.

Hambuechen got the bronze.

Behind Li on parallel bars were South Korea's Yoo Won-chul and Anton Fokin of Uzbekistan.

Li overpowered the bars, and the competition, adding this gold medal to his Sydney title. The 2000 gold medalist and two-time world champion began with a sensational leap forward from one end of the bars to the other -- using only his arms to catapult him.

When he stuck his landing, Li and his coach pumped their arms as if they were trying to touch the ceiling. Then again, the Chinese men already had blown off the roof of the National Indoor Stadium with their dominance.

And the U.S. women weren't far behind.

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