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US Women Take Early Lead in World Gymnastics Qualifiers - 2003-08-18

The United States women's team took the early lead in qualifying for the finals of the World Gymnastics championships Sunday in Anaheim, California. The remaining six of the eight women's subdivisions will compete Monday.

The U.S. women overcame falls on the balance beam and in floor exercise to rack up a total of 147.697 points. That is probably good enough for the team to make the top eight and advance to the finals. The top 12 teams qualify for the 2004 Summer Olympics next year in Athens, Greece.

The American team has had a rough week, losing two of its top athletes to illness and injury. 2002 balance beam champion Ashley Postell dropped out with illness and Annia Hatch also withdrew after tearing knee ligaments in practice on Saturday.

The U.S. men's team finished first in the qualifying rounds with 227.743 points. Japan was second (227.046) and China, which had been expected to dominate the competition, was third (225.119). Canada, Germany, Spain and Italy were also among the top-12 nations earning berths to the 2004 Olympics. But 2001 champion Belarus failed to make the cut, after Dimitry Kaspiarovich suffered a torn Achilles tendon.

Meanwhile the Associated Press reported Moday that Cuban gymnast Michel Brito Ferrer defected at the championships after the team competition finished Sunday. His uncle, who lives in Los Angeles and picked him up at the team hotel, says the gymnast planned to compete in the meet so he could travel to the United States and defect.