Originally created 11/22/05

World championships last chance for perfection



MELBOURNE, Australia - The 275 gymnasts competing in this year's world championships will have one last shot at perfection.

With a new, open-ended code of points to be introduced beginning in January, gymnasts will no longer be able to land the elusive perfect 10 etched into history by Nadia Comaneci's unparalleled performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

The International Gymnastics Federation, or FIG, introduced the new points system - which combines an open-ended mark for difficulty with a 10-point mark for execution - after a scoring error left last year's Olympics results in limbo for more than two months.

Two days after Paul Hamm became the first American to win the Olympic all-around title at Athens, South Korea's bronze medallist Yang Tae-young challenged the result when FIG announced he had been wrongly docked a tenth of a point off the start value of his parallel bars routine.

FIG refused to change the results - there's no way to know what would have happened without the error - but the incident pushed officials to change the controversial scoring system.

There will be no rematch between the two at this event, which begins Tuesday at Rod Laver Arena.

Hamm, who holds both the world and Olympic all-around titles, is taking the year off to finish his studies at Ohio State University, and Yang is sitting out the all-around competition to rest an injured hand.

"My condition is not too good at the moment," Yang said Monday. "Usually, I compete in (the) all-around, so I am used to doing a lot of training. At this competition, I will just compete on the parallel bars, so I am feeling nervous because I have so much spare time."

With Hamm and Yang out of the running, Japan's Hiroyuki Tomita is among the favorites to win the men's all-around title, along with Olympic silver medalist Kim Dae-eun of South Korea and U.S. national champion Todd Thornton.

The women's competition will also see some fresh faces.

With the retirement of the current all-around world champion, Russia's Svetlana Khorkina, and the absence of last year's Olympic gold medalist, American Carly Patterson, the field is open for a new women's champion.

All eyes have been on America's rising star, 16-year-old Nastia Liukin, the daughter of former Olympian Valeri Liukin and the 1987 world rhythmic gymnastics champion, Anna Liukin.

Along with fellow Americans Chellsie Memmel and Alicia Sacramone, and China's Zhang Nan - who took bronze at Athens - Nastia Liukin is considered one of the top contenders for this year's title.

On individual apparatus events, China's Cheng Fei and two-time Olympic vault champion Elena Zamolodchikova of Russia are expected to vie for the gold medal.

Fei is expected to try her new vault - a backward 180-degree flip and a forward 540-degree flip - during the preliminary competition Wednesday. Fei is also expected to vie for an individual medal on the floor exercise, along with 2003 world champion Diane Dos Santos of Brazil and reigning Olympic floor champion Catalina Ponor.

Competition begins with the men's and women's qualifiers. The top 24 gymnasts in each category will then advance to the all-around finals Thursday and Friday, with the top eight gymnasts on each apparatus going to the individual event finals during the weekend.