Louis Smith leads stunning British gymnasts in qualifying

 

Great Britain's male gymnasts qualified in third place for Monday's team final and secured five places in individual finals on an unprecedented opening day.

GB finished behind the United States and Russia having outscored Olympic and world champions China in their session.

The result is the finest for Britain's men in modern gymnastics history.

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I've never experienced anything like it in my life

Louis Smith

"We all have smiles on our faces - it's monstrous," said Britain's Louis Smith, who qualified for his pommel horse final in first place.

The 23-year-old fought back tears as he scored 15.800 in a superb routine, to wild applause from his home North Greenwich Arena crowd.

"That was an unbelievable relief," Smith, who won bronze in the event at Beijing 2008, told BBC Sport.

"It's been an emotional four years. There's been a lot of pressure since Beijing to perform at this Olympics. There was a lot riding on it. I couldn't help thinking about the future - providing for my family, the expectation.

"I said 'Come on' to myself twice in my pommel horse routine, and I've never done that before. It's hard to explain what I felt when I landed that routine. It came close in Beijing, but this time - I've never experienced anything like it in my life. It was the best feeling in the world."

GB Gymnasts in confident mood

China's men stuttered from apparatus to apparatus, piecing together a surprisingly mediocre score of 269.985 to qualify sixth. Britain led qualifying for a time with 272.420, but the United States (275.342) and Russia (272.595) surpassed the hosts in the last qualifying session.

Germany, Japan, Ukraine and France are the other qualifiers, although Japan also struggled and Kohei Uchimura - the world all-around champion, billed as a man waiting to be crowned a legend at London 2012 - fell twice on a day of surprises.

Nothing, though, outstrips the surprise those nations will feel at the performance of GB's quintet, who took full advantage of others' mistakes and booked a raft of places in next week's finals.

Kristian Thomas and Dan Purvis will feature in the all-around final having qualified in fifth and 10th respectively, the 23-year-old Thomas scoring 90.256 overall to Uchimura's 89.764. Danell Leyva of the United States top-scored with 91.265.

A score of 15.983 also secured Thomas a place in the vault final as the fifth best, while Smith is joined by Max Whitlock, 19, in the pommel horse final. Whitlock's 14.900 qualified him in eighth.

Smith's bronze medal at Beijing 2008 was Britain's first for 80 years. Britain has little history of success in men's gymnastics and this marks the first occasion in the modern post-war sport that a British men's team has reached the Olympic final.

Britain's women, led by Beth Tweddle at her final Olympics, enter their qualifying session on Sunday. Rebecca Tunney, at 15 the youngest Briton competing in any event at London 2012, will also take part.