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Flip or flop? US men gymnasts about to find out

Aug. 10, 2008, 1:01 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The U.S. men's gymnastics team came to the Olympics looking for a way to replace their injured star, reigning gold medalist Paul Hamm. The best bet to step up was his twin brother, Morgan, the only guy left with Olympic experience.

Then Morgan bowed out with his own injury. And there were no more Hamm brothers to choose from.

A medal for the Americans would've been tough even with both Hamms perfectly healthy. Without either of them?

Find out for yourself Monday night.

The men's gymnastics team finals will get live-in-prime-time treatment from NBC, along with more of Michael Phelps at the Water Cube.

As good as Phelps is in the water, the Chinese gymnasts are on the mat. Thus, gold is pretty unrealistic for the Americans - and everyone else.

Even though China's dominance has produced only one gold over the last three Olympics, things are different this time. Home-mat advantage is one thing. Another is that the crew has stuck together from its disappointing finish in Athens, vowing to make amends.

The rest of the field is tough, too. There's the defending Olympic champions from Japan, the European champs from Russia and Germany, the bronze medalists at worlds.

It's hard to say where the Americans fit in. None of them want to believe that just making the finals was an accomplishment. And the way scoring works - with little margin for error - it's hard to count anyone out.

"I'm going to be mad if we don't go home with a medal," high-bar dazzler Justin Spring said.

OK, truth is he said that before Morgan Hamm withdrew, leaving nobody left from the silver medal crew in 2004.

So maybe the better sentiment comes from Sasha Artemev, the latest fill-in.

"We're kind of underdogs," Artemev said. "We're going to creep up and see where we end up."

There's certainly talent on the roster.

With Artemev on board, the Olympics squad has half the guys it had at last year's world championships, where the U.S. finished fourth.

Jonathan Horton was fourth individually at last year's worlds. Kevin Tan can put together a strong still rings routine. Artemev won bronze on the pommel horse in 2006. Raj Bhavsar, the replacement for Paul Hamm, has silver medals from the 2001 and 2003 worlds. Joseph Hagerty is consistently solid.

It's just a matter of doing it at this level. Worlds are one thing; the Olympics are something else entirely. As proof, look at China's record - seven of the last eight world titles, but fifth in Athens. (They won in Sydney, took silver in Atlanta.)

Speaking of dominant, Phelps will be after his second individual gold on the same broadcast. It might be his third overall, depending on how things go in Sunday night's 400-meter freestyle relay.

NBC's nighttime show also will include live beach volleyball with the U.S. star duo of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, plus the finals of the men's synchronized platform diving.

Other TV highlights include a women's basketball battle between the U.S. women and the host country, plus Australia against Brazil.

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