Japan edges China at men's gymnastics worlds; U.S. wins bronze

ANTWERP, Belgium -- Japan is back on top in men's gymnastics.

The five-man group led by reigning world and Olympic champion Daiki Hashimoto edged rival China in the team finals at the 2023 world championships on Tuesday to earn Japan's first major international gold medal since 2015.

The Japanese posted a team total of 255.594 points, nearly two points clear of China at 253.794. China, which finished eighth during a sloppy performance in qualifications to barely make the final, bounced back with a medal on the line but couldn't quite catch Japan.

The U.S. men's program took a significant step forward by earning its first bronze at a world championships or Olympics since 2014. The five-man team of Asher Hong, Paul Juda, Khoi Young, Yul Moldauer and Fred Richard finished at 252.428.

The Americans avoided major mistakes early and then showed considerable growth late. Needing to put together a solid set on high bar in the final event, Young, Juda and Richard came through with nervy performances.

Richard, a 19-year-old sophomore at Michigan, celebrated when he stuck his dismount while his teammates broke out in chants of "USA!"

"I'm so pumped, this is crazy," Richard said. "Is this reality?"

The U.S. finished second behind Japan in qualifying, though the issue with the men's program in recent years has been falling short during the finals. That didn't happen on Tuesday.

While the Americans were far from perfect, they maintained their composure to hold off Great Britain, which has eclipsed the U.S. of late as the top team in the world not named Japan, China or Russia.

With the Russian team not allowed to participate as part of the political fallout of the country's war with Ukraine, there was an open spot on the podium. The Americans took advantage to give the program a jolt with less than a year to go to the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

All five members plus alternate Colt Walker figure to be in the mix to make the Olympic team, a group that should include two-time national champion and 2020 Olympian Brody Malone, who is recovering from a leg injury but is expected to return to training this winter.

"I know we have so much potential to go," Richard said. "I think it's only up from here."