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Top Chinese gymnast injured, withdraws as equipment is called into question

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China's Teng Haibin was injured during training and withdrew from the Olympics. (AP)

China's Teng Haibin was injured during training and withdrew from the Olympics. (AP)

LONDON – The Olympics haven’t even started yet and the concern that trickled out of the gymnastics arena on Wednesday might wind up not being a concern at all.

But the tumbles and stumbles and falls from the American, Japanese and Chinese teams in men’s podium training might actually mean a lot when it comes to winning medals.

One of China’s top male gymnasts, Teng Haibin, who won a gold medal in the pommel horse in 2004, fell several times during Wednesday’s routine and had to withdraw from the Games. Haiban reportedly came to London already injured but may have reinjured himself.

This came on a day when several American and Japanese gymnasts also looked sloppy during events they usually dominate. Inside Gymnastics Magazine, one of the few media outlets allowed in the podium training, tweeted about the stumbles and reported that a few American gymnasts looked back at the vault with confused looks on their faces.

Their reactions led to speculation that everyone was having trouble with equipment they aren’t accustomed to using. Normally, the Americans practice and compete on equipment made by American Athletic, Inc., but Gymnova is the official supplier to the London games. At the Olympic level, the difference can be significant. For instance, if one company’s mat might be bouncier or slipperier than the other, a gymnast’s whole floor routine might be thrown off.

Because the podium training is the only chance for gymnasts to work out in the arena in which they will compete, there won’t be much time to adjust.

“If you have been training on one type of equipment for your entire life and then you come to the Olympics and have to use a different company’s equipment, it can be a challenge,” said Shannon Miller, who won two gold medals in 1996 and analyzes gymnastics for Yahoo! Sports. “You either adjust or perish. It opens the door to a lot of people.

“If the Chinese are faltering, it means the Americans have a better chance at medals."

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