World Gymnastics 2011: British men fail to qualify for London 2012

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Sport in Tokyo

Britain's men missed their first chance to qualify for London 2012 as they finished outside the top eight at the World Gymnastics in Tokyo.

The women qualified on Saturday but the men, expected to easily match them, suffered a disaster on the high bar and did not recover, finishing 10th.

Louis Smith made the pommel horse final but cannot qualify for the Olympics this week even if he wins a medal.

GB's men must now try to qualify at the 2012 test event in London in January.

"Unfortunately we won't get a very long Christmas," admitted Olympic bronze medallist Smith, who rounded off the British qualifying performance early on Monday.

"This was a very disappointing day," said British performance director Tim Jones.

"We did not expect to make so many mistakes on high bar, which ended up so seriously undermining our challenge.

"However, our gymnasts were not outclassed. They are a talented group who will rise to the challenge of qualifying for the Olympic Games at the second qualification opportunity in January."

The test event, to be held at the O2 Arena - the Olympic gymnastics venue - sees the teams who finished ninth to 16th in Tokyo battle it out for four remaining team slots at the Games.

Despite Britain's shock exit here, they are highly likely to come through the test event and reach the Games.

However, British coaches were desperate to avoid having to compete there as the gymnasts will now have to devote time and energy to the test event, which could instead have been focused on preparing for the Olympics.

If the men do qualify in January, it will be the first time Britain has sent both men's and women's teams to the Games since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics - which were boycotted by Eastern Bloc nations, the gymnastics powerhouses of that era.

Smith made the pommel horse final in Tokyo, placing second in qualification behind Hungarian arch-rival Krisztian Berki.

But he did not fulfil new rules introduced by world governing body the FIG for London 2012, and subsequently cannot qualify for the Games here even if he wins a medal in his final on Saturday.

The rules demand that, if a gymnast does not qualify as part of a team, they must complete three pieces of apparatus - to within 85% of the average qualifying score on that apparatus in Tokyo - and then win a medal.

Britain, gambling that the team and hence Smith would qualify, only sent Smith out on the pommel horse apparatus.

By contrast, Smith's team-mate Dan Purvis reached the all-around final in superb fashion, ignoring the broader malaise around him, and will qualify himself for London 2012 if he wins a medal having fulfilled the FIG's criteria.

The rest of the team suffered as errors pockmarked their performances inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Pommel specialist Smith scored 15.600 on the horse, the very last of Britain's 30 routines, to give his team a total of 348.742.

His performance gave the team a ray of hope at the time, but France, Russia, Korea and then China pushed Britain down from sixth to 10th and outside the reckoning for the team final or the Games.

A Japanese team led by Kohei Uchimura, who will try for his third successive world all-around title later this week, dominated men's qualifying to score 364.291, with the United States second (361.583) and China by their standards a lowly third (359.126).

The high bar proved the catalyst for Britain's literal downfall as Dan Keatings suffered a severe fall on his first appearance at this level in two years, having come back from ligament damage.

Sam Oldham, at 18 the youngest member of the men's team, also failed to hit his bar routine before Keatings and Kristian Thomas made major errors on the pommel horse.

"I can't really explain what happened," said Keatings, 21, "but I'm annoyed that it did.

"My preparation coming into the competition was really good. I wanted to show I'd come back, but this didn't go the way I wanted.

"[Falling from the high bar] was pretty scary and I was a little bit dizzy afterwards. I had quite a lot of errors, a few slips off each apparatus, but I battled through."

Oldham said: "It's not how we would have wanted it to go and not how I want my first world championships to go, but we can't do too much about it now."

Purvis, 20, shone as his resilient, dogged display on all six pieces of apparatus qualified him in a superb fifth place for Friday's all-around final.

"I coped with my nerves," he said. "There were a couple of falls so I needed to see my routines clean."

Britain's women qualified for the Games on Saturday, squeaking through in eighth place following a similarly fraught qualifying session.

Smith and the remaining men, however, must now wait for January's test event to earn their Olympic spurs.

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