Russia's team performs during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around qualifications on Thursday. AP
Belarus led the group all-around qualifications of the Beijing Olympic rhythmic gymnastics tournament on Friday, with host China entering the medal round in third place.
On day two of the group qualifications, China, which ended second after the five-rope routine on Thursday, earned 17.700 points and made the final with a total of 34.700 points.
The host nation, which has not won any Olympic rhythmic gymnastics medals so far, is seeking a breakthrough in the team event.
"Our mentality helped us a lot. Our goal is to show the best of ourselves on the Olympic stage," said Sun Dan of the Chinese team.
But teammate Zhang Shuo was more coy: "We're not thinking too much about a medal. We just want to show the whole world our sweetest smile."
Belarus, which placed fourth at Athens and was the first finisher in Thursday's group qualifications, consolidated its rank, sailing into the final in first place with a collection of 34.950 points.
Russia, winner of the group title at the past two Olympic Games and four world championships in a row, pushed two notches up, from fourth place on Thursday to second place on Friday and remains the favorite.
The traditional rhythmic powerhouse has proved to be unbeatable in nearly all major international events in recent years, and many believe Beijing will prove the same.
Russian girls' outstanding technical ability and artistic performance have given them superiority in rhythmic gymnastics. Though lesser players such as Italy, Bulgaria and Belarus are also considered capable contestants, whether they can beat the Russians remains to be seen.
Analysts said though teams such as Italy, which won the silver medal for the group all-round in Athens and two consecutive world championships, may have come close to Russia in terms of difficulty score, they still lag behind in artistry.
"I have a vision which team will rule rhythmic gymnastics at the Beijing Games," Irina Viner, head coach of Russia's Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team hinted last month. In Athens, Russia netted both the individual and group titles.
Italy, the group silver medalist at the Athens Olympics, qualified for today's final in fourth place. Bulgaria, the bronze medallist in Athens, finished fifth.
"We are quite satisfied with our performance today and we are in a good mood now," said Vira Perederiy of Ukraine, which entered the final in sixth place. "We will make every effort to get a better result than in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games."
(China Daily 08/24/2008 page26)