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China win first women's gymnastics gold

China won its first women's team gymnastics Olympic gold in Beijing after a nightmare performance from Alicia Sacramone dashed US hopes.

other Updated: Aug 13, 2008 23:30 IST

China won its first women's team gymnastics Olympic gold in Beijing on Wednesday after a nightmare performance from Alicia Sacramone dashed US hopes in one of Beijing Games' most keenly anticipated showdowns.

In front of a fiercely patriotic hometown crowd, China avenged last year's narrow loss to the United States at the world championships and added to the team gold claimed by the home nation's male gymnasts on Tuesday.

Defending Olympic champions Romania won bronze but looked a shadow of the side that won four women's gymnastics golds in Athens in 2004.

China finished on 188.9 points, 2.375 points ahead of the United States on 186.525, with Romania on 181.525.

Chinese head coach Lu Shanzhen said the victory was a historic moment that heralded a new Olympic power in the sport and credited the 18,000-strong crowd at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium with helping cheer his team to victory.

"This is the most important gold medal ... the great atmosphere here in China allowed everyone to be filled with enthusiasm and good morale," said Lu, who transformed a women's team that failed to win a single gold in Athens.

For Sacramone, there was only despair after she fell of the balance beam attempting a spectacular backward jumping mount then, clearly rattled, slipped over on her next apparatus the floor exercise.

She was in tears as she recalled how her Olympic dream turned to ashes, while US team officials blamed stadium staff for delaying Sacramone's appearance on the beam and destroying her focus.

"I was just really eager to do my routine and get the show on the road but they did hold me for quite some time and I guess I lost my nerve a little bit," Sacramone said.

The United States took an early lead on the vault, leaving China trailing 0.6 points on an apparatus it had been expected to dominate with world champion Cheng Fei on the team. The Amercians appeared to have extended their lead after a strong performance on uneven bars by Nastia Liukin but the home team lifted when the crowd created a wall of sound urging them on.

He Kexhin, who fell off in the qualifiers, received 16.85 for her routine as China took a 1.125 lead at the half-way point.

Potential disaster struck in the next round when Cheng Fei fell off the beam, giving a US team containing Liukin, the world champion on the apparatus, the chance to establish a decisive lead.

But Sacramone's tumble meant they could only narrow the gap to 1.0 points going into the final apparatus, the excercise floor, regarded as a US stronghold.