ATHENS — Aided with an unexpected and timely assist from former BYU gymnast Guard Young, the United States men's gymnastics team survived Saturday's qualification round to remain in contention for the country's first men's Olympic team medal since the Los Angeles Games of 1984.

With a score of 230.419 in the compulsory competition, the six-man U.S. team finished in second place and ensured a place in the favored final rotation when the team medal is decided Monday night in the Olympic Indoor Hall. Japan (232.134) enters the optional round in first place, with Romania (230.019), China (229.507), Ukraine (228.382) and Russia (227.980) trailing the United States.

In the finals, each team enters three gymnasts in each of the six events — floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar — with every score counting toward the total score. In Saturday's prelims, however, the rules allowed five gymnasts in each event, with the top four scores counting.

Young's major contribution came on the Americans' fourth event, the pommel horse — one of his weaker events and one he was not scheduled to perform.

But the 27-year-old BYU graduate, a second-place finisher in the 2000 NCAA all-around as a senior, was forced into duty when teammate Blaine Wilson pulled him aside just before the pommel horse round was to start.

"You've got to go for me," Wilson said, "I can't do it."

In the second event of the night, the high bar, Wilson fell and hurt his back while scoring a non-counting 8.862. Trainers had to use smelling salts to bring him to. He recovered to deliver a 9.7 on the third event, floor exercise but landed hard at the end of that routine. He was shaking and sweaty when he delivered his message to Young, who answered, "OK, I'm ready."

Under the rules, Young had to go last on horse. Three of his teammates delivered acceptable scores ahead of him — Jason Gatson with a 9.225, Morgan Hamm with a 9.7 and Paul Hamm with a 9.725 — but Brett McClure fell on his routine and managed only a 9.0. A counting score from Young was sorely needed.

Young stepped up and produced a solid 9.212 effort.

Young, who was born in Utah and moved to Oklahoma when he was 10, was one of the last two gymnasts named to the U.S. team and had not looked sharp in pre-Games training. "He told me he was worried whether he belonged," said Peter Vidmar, a member of the 1984 U.S. gold-medal-winning team who is in Athens as a radio commentator for Westwood One. "After today, he came up to me and said, 'Now I know I belong.' "

"The fact is that nobody expected me to get to this level. I was kind of an underdog. I was the surprise," said Young, whose father, Wayne, was captain of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in 1976. "We had some struggles (today), but our team was strong. We fought, we overcame all the problems, and we achieved our goal to get to the finals."

The U.S. team comes to these Olympics with high expectations after winning silver medals at the past two world championships. Young was an alternate on those teams.

In Vidmar's opinion, having a solid but hardly spectacular first-day showing could help the U.S. team Monday night. "They won't be trying to protect anything," he said. "They don't have a lead to protect. They're going to have to attack. I think this is where they want to be."

Exactly which gymnasts will compete in the various events will be decided by the coach Monday night. Young is most likely to compete on floor, his strongest event. Rings and vault are also possibilities.

CYCLING ROAD RACE: Onetime Utah cyclist Levi Leipheimer had a rough start, and finish, in the Olympic men's road race along the streets of downtown Athens on Saturday afternoon. The 31-year-old from Santa Rosa, Calif., fell behind and dropped out of the 17-lap, 147-mile race about 2 1/2 laps from the finish.

"I wasn't feeling the greatest today," said Leipheimer, a 1991 graduate of Rowland Hall-St. Mark's High School in Salt Lake City. "I did as much as I could and made sure my teammates were at the front at the critical areas of the course. When the pace really accelerated, I couldn't stay with (teammates) Bobby (Julich) and Tyler (Hamilton). I just tried to make sure they were well-positioned and tried to stay in as long as I could to keep them at the front."

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The twisting course lapped the famed Acropolis ruins in the heart of Athens. Thousands of spectators lined the course on the first full day of the Olympics to watch one of the few free events. Temperatures were brutal, the heat taking a toll on the racers. The winner was Italy's Paolo Bettini, one of the pre-race favorites, followed by Portugal's Sergio Paulinho and Axel Merckx of Belgium, son of legendary Tour de France racer Eddie Merckx.

The three American finishers, Tyler Hamilton, Bobby Julich and George Hincapie, were among 33 riders, including defending gold medalist Jan Ullrich of Germany, who finished in a group 12 seconds behind the medalists.


E-mail: lbenson@desnews.com