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Russians 1-2 halfway through Olympic qualifying

By NANCY ARMOUR,

AP National Writer

Updated August 9, 2012

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

LONDON (AP) No surprise, there's a Russian in the lead in rhythmic gymnastics.

The surprise is which Russian it is.

Daria Dmitrieva upstaged Evgeniya Kanaeva on Thursday, taking advantage of the defending Olympic champion's mistake in her hoop routine to top the standings halfway through individual qualifying. With 57.80 points, Dmitrieva is 0.175 points ahead of Kanaeva going into Friday's qualifying session with the ribbon and clubs.

Liubou Charkashnya of Belarus was third. The top 10 advance to Saturday's all-around final.

Russia continued its big day in group qualifying, taking the lead over three-time world champion Italy. Russia, seeking its fourth straight Olympic title, scored 28.375 points for its routine with five balls while Italy was .275 points behind. Qualifying continues Friday with three ribbons and two hoops, and the top eight teams advance to Sunday's final.

Kanaeva is heavily favored to become the first two-time Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics. She's won the last three world titles and was so dominant at last year's world championships that she won all four individual events, too. She also got a gold in the team competition.

But Kanaeva made an uncharacteristic mistake in her first routine of the day, hoop. Tossing her gold - naturally - hoop high into the air, she mistimed the catch and the ring bounced off her chest and skittered away. Kanaeva quickly chased the hoop down, a look of shock on her face, but judges had no choice but to lower her execution mark.

She rebounded with an exquisite ball routine, her overall score of 29.525 the highest of the day. Gumby would have turned a deeper shade of green watching her spin on her chest, legs pulled over her head and the milky pink ball cradled in the nape of her neck. When she rolled the ball along one arm, it looked like a pinball.

The big score allowed Kanaeva to make up some ground on Dmitrieva, but not quite enough.

Dmitrieva wasn't even supposed to be in London, only making the Olympic team earlier this month after Alexandra Merkulova got hurt. But the late call-up didn't seem to faze her, and she oozed confidence with her elegant and intricate routines. The highlight was when she tossed her hoop high into the air, doing two somersaults before blindly catching it around her wrists, her hands behind her head.

American Julie Zetlin is unlikely to make the final, in 22nd place (48.20) after mistakes in both her ball and hoop routines.

"With this being my first Olympic Games, it was a whole different feeling. A whole different adrenaline rush I'd never felt before," Zetlin said. "When I was in my beginning poses, I felt a little shaky."

Zetlin was in one of those early poses when her first error occurred. Cradling her ball in her leg that was bent overhead, the ball popped out and rolled away from her.

"That's not a mistake I ever make. It was my first routine, and I was nervous," she said. "After that mistake, I said, `Hey, get your focus together and make the rest of the routine strong.'"

She also lost control of her hoop at the end of the routine.

"I had some little mistakes today," she said, "so there's room for improvement."

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