Dalaloyan grapples with injury; China tops early qualifying

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TOKYO (AP) — Artur Dalaloyan put his hands over his eyes, made his way off the podium, sat down in a chair and wept.

The Russian gymnast had just spent over a minute putting his heavily taped surgically repaired left leg through the rigors of a world-class floor exercise. Gritting through the pain, the 25-year-old completed a routine that basically assured himself of a spot in next week's all-around finals.

All of a sudden, the weight of his incredible recovery from a torn Achilles tendon hit him.

So the tears fell. And fell.

“I couldn’t control my emotions," Dalaloyen said after the first subdivision of men's qualifying on Saturday. “There's something that broke inside me."

Four months after his left foot hung limp after shredding his Achilles at the European championships, Dalaloyan posted a total of 85.957 that was good enough for fourth overall behind teammate and reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy. His ranking as the second Russian gymnast means he'll be in the all-around final next week, if his Achilles holds up.

Dalaloyan didn't decide to attempt to qualify for the all-around until meeting with his coaches on Friday.

“I felt strength and power to compete and decided to compete,” Dalaloyan said. “I keep working for 24 hours a day. For me, the Olympic Games is a really high priority. For most sportsmen and people who do (gymnastics), they don't have the chance to be here. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Even if the injury prevented him from putting on the show he wanted. His two lowest scores of the day came on his final two events: pommel horse and floor.

“On one side of me, one side was full of joy and confidence,” he said. “I was kind of proud I could make it, I could come to this point and do all the exercises all the way I really wanted to. The other part of me felt disappointment in a sense because I understand I could not do all the exercises perfectly. There was something I probably could have improved. So having these mixed feelings would better describe my emotions.”

Dalaloyan will have a day to rehab before team finals on Monday when the gymnasts competing for the ROC, as the Russian team is known, will attempt to win their first Olympic title since 2000.

ROC and China appear headed for another showdown, just as they did at the 2018 and 2019 world championships. The Chinese edged the Russians in 2018, with Russia returning the favor in 2019.

China's qualifying total of 262.061 — fueled by four brilliant sets on parallel bars — was just enough to beat out 261.945. The Chinese are attempting to rebound for a bronze-medal finish in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Nagornyy grabbed the early lead in all-around qualifying, putting together a steady 87.897, just ahead of China's Xiao Ruoteng and Sun Wei.

"We respect our rivals very much,” Nagornyy said of the rivalry with China. “We made our best effort. We have a lot to do. There are still tasks ahead.”

Five-time Olympian Marian Dragulescu's attempt to reach the vault finals at age 40 ended when he shorted his landing on his first vault. The three-time Olympic medalist finished his international career by completing the “Dragulescu vault” he invented with only a small hop on the landing.

Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands, the 2012 high bar champion, won't reach the final on his signature event after an uncharacteristically sloppy series of connections put him in 10th place after the first subdivision. The 35-year-old arrived in Tokyo dealing with a shoulder injury.

Host Japan, looking to defend the Olympic title it claimed in 2016, was scheduled to compete later Saturday. The Japanese delegation includes two-time Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura, who will compete as an individual on the high bar. The U.S., searching for its first podium finish since 2008 in Beijing, is also set to go later Saturday.

The top eight teams in qualifying advance to Monday's team final. The all-around final will be held on Wednesday, with the event finals coming later in the games.


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