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Russia Qualifies in First Round of World Gymnastics Championship

Russia has narrowly escaped its first ever elimination in the qualifying stage of the World Gymnastics Championship, when a disastrous performance by the German men allowed the once-great Russians to grab the final berth Monday in Ghent, Belgium.

Overnight leaders Belarus finished on top of qualifying for Wednesday's final after a sparkling performance by Ivan Ivankov, who topped the individual standings and qualified for three of the apparatus finals. Also advancing to the final were the United States, South Korea, Romania, Ukraine, France and China.

After a lackluster performance Sunday, Russia's Olympic Champion Alexei Nemov predicted his injury-hit team would not make the top eight heading into the final. That looked like a reality after first China, then France and Romania pushed the Russians down the standings. A good German performance would have shut Russia out, but it was not to be. With a slew of falls on the high bar and stumbles on the mat, the German's failed to make the top eight, and Russia squeezed in.

Russia's hopes of a team medal still look remote. So do China's, even though it is the reigning World and Olympic champion. At this event, the Chinese are fielding what amounts to a junior men's team, since their Olympic stars chose to stay at home for next week's national championship.

A standout individual performance came from Eric Lopez of Cuba, who qualified second behind Russian Ivan Ivankov heading the field of 34 in the all-around final. But because the Cubans only sent three gymnasts, they could not take part in the team competition even though all three got in the top 20, a feat matched only by the United States.

Women's preliminaries at the world meet are taking place Monday and Tuesday.