ANTWERP, Belgium — Japanese world championships debutant Kenta Chiba put Japan on track to winning its first team title for eight years with an impressive performance.
Japan led the field after four of six men’s qualifying sessions in Antwerp, keeping the USA at bay.
Chiba, 27, posted 85.799 points, the top score in the second of six qualifying sessions, with Kazuma Kaya second with 85.598.
Daiki Hashimoto, the reigning world and Olympic all-round champion, was below par and finished third overall and just third among his Japanese squad with a score of 85.432.
With just two gymnasts from each country allowed to go forward to the all-round final, Hashimoto benefited from the rules that allow a country to swap a competitor of their choice and he will take part in the final at the expense of the unfortunate Kaya.
The Americans, blending experienced campaigners like Tokyo Olympian Yul Moldauer and rookies like Paul Juda, snuck past the British squad.
Elsewhere, South Korea’s badminton squad raced onto the court and some players were in tears after steamrolling hosts China 3-0 to win Asian Games women’s team gold Sunday for the first time in nearly 30 years.
World number one An Se-young got the party started in Hangzhou in rampant fashion when she defeated Chen Yufei 21-12, 21-13 in double-quick time.
Next, Lee So-hee and Baek Hana beat Jia Yifan and Chen Qingchen 21-18, 21-14 in the doubles, before Kim Ga-eun sealed the deal with a hard-fought 23-21, 21-17 victory over He Bingjiao.
That sparked wild celebrations from the South Korean players on the sidelines, who sprinted onto the court. At least two were in tears.
South Korea’s coach Kim Hak-kyun called the gold “precious” and said they were already targeting more success at next summer’s Paris Olympics.
“This is thanks to the determination, mindset, mentality and unity of our players,” said Kim.
“They are at their peak, but we are still moving forward and our target is beyond Asia and looking at the Olympics.”
China’s coach Xia Xuanze said the home team were tired and would need to quickly pick themselves up, with singles and doubles golds still up for grabs later in the Games.
“Because we are playing at home, in an event that happens only every four years, of course we face a lot of pressure,” said Xia according to AFP.
“But there is also the incentive of playing at home.
“It was not about pressure today, but at key moments we couldn’t grasp the opportunities.
“Because we didn’t win gold today, our athletes’ mindset will be affected for sure.”
China can earn a measure of redemption when they face India later on Sunday in the men’s team final.