Japan leads U.S., Britain in standings

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- Kohei Uchimura's left shoulder held up during qualifying Monday, helping Japan to the early lead at the world gymnastics championships.

Even a late push by the Americans couldn't catch Japan and the defending all-around champion, who competed with skin-colored tape plastered over his left shoulder. Japan leads the standings with 361.400 points, followed by the United States (357.092) and Britain (357.033).

Olympic champion China, Russia and Germany compete Tuesday. The men's team final is Thursday.

"The guy is ridiculous," said two-time U.S. champion Jonathan Horton, who is second to Uchimura in the all-around standings. "He has got, like, no arm right now and he is still competing. He is just phenomenal."

Uchimura employed a flowing style to win the all-around silver at the Beijing Olympics and gold at the world championships in London last year. But he's had bone inflammation in his shoulder since July, giving him constant pain that is getting worse.

His performance in team qualifying was the day's most anticipated event since it is assumed no one can get close to a healthy Uchimura. He consistently scored well despite limiting his degree of difficulty to protect his shoulder.

"In this condition, I did the best possible," Uchimura said through a translator.

Uchimura leads the all-around standings with 92.231 points, followed by Horton (89.589) and Britain's Daniel Purvis (89.498).

With last year's silver medalist Daniel Keatings out with a torn knee ligament and 2007 runner-up Fabian Hambuechen limited to four events because of a lingering Achilles injury, Horton is likely Uchimura's biggest challenge. But he started out with an error on high bar, the event where he won a silver medal in Beijing, and dropped points through carelessness throughout the evening.

"I was extremely sloppy. I was very ugly," Horton said. "I can do two points better."

Even with his injured shoulder, Uchimura was impressive.

His execution on the opening pommel horse was nearly flawless, bringing an airy lightness of touch where most other gymnasts struggle.

Expressionless and sullen ahead of the exercise, Uchimura lit up when coming off the horse, cheerfully hitting fists and slapping high-fives with teammates, knowing the first test was passed.

Immediately, though, a medic put even more tape on his shoulder to withstand the pressure on the joint the rings would impose. There, too, he brought the Uchimura touch to make the very difficult look almost easy.

"The rings were my biggest challenge. That gave me a lot of satisfaction," he said. Despite the pain, "a rush of adrenaline" carried him through, he said. He followed it up by nailing his vault.

Halfway through the competition, he was already solidly in the lead for all-around qualifying and the trepidation over his shoulder had dissipated.

Uchimura looked close to his best again and he fully strutted his stuff on the high bar, swinging and leaping with abandon.

Waiting to close Japan's session on the floor, he stood with a long white coat over his shoulders, like a boxer before a bout. He then finished with a flurry, and one error -- relying on his hands on a landing, his worst mistake during his two-hour session.

He said the drive of the competition will carry him through his shoulder pain.

"I expect to get better for the team final and the individual all-around," he said.

At the Beijing Games two years ago, China won the team event, ahead of Japan and the U.S. It was not held in London last year.

Scoring starts anew for the top eight teams that make Thursday's final.

"Start over," Horton said. "We are a very strong team."