Incheon: Japan upset favourites China to claim the Asian Games men`s team gymnastics gold Sunday, with Beijing`s golden boy Zou Kai outshone in the floor routine by an unfancied outsider.
The Chinese, who have dominated Asian Games gymnastics, with 123 golds out of a possible 175 since the event was introduced in 1974, were beaten into third by South Korea, let down by a patchy performance across the six disciplines.
The hosts had been targeting gold in the team event, hoping Olympic champion Yang Hak-Seon would vault them to victory.
But a hamstring injury suffered this week meant the 21-year-old was unable to perform his gravity-defying triple aerial twist "Yang 1" dismount.
Forced to perform an easier vault, he came up just short of North Korea`s Ri Se-Gwang despite comfortably outscoring his rival in the execution marks.
Japan, silver medallists behind China at the 2012 Olympics but without a single member of that team present, were impressive in their consistency and showed real class on the pommel and high bar.
The biggest surprise came on the floor as five-time Olympic gold medallist Zou was outdone by 23-year-old Shotaro Shirai, competing in his first major international games.
To add to the ignominy for China`s most decorated Olympian, Shirai is not even the best floor gymnast in his family -- his younger brother Kenzo is the world champion.
But Shirai junior has skipped Incheon to defend his title in Nanning, China from October 3, along with Japan`s four-time world title holder Kohei Uchimura and reigning world pommel champion Kohei Kamemiya.
Zou, who performed earlier in the day, could only look on and watch as Shirai outdid him with a routine that was less technically challenging but executed more cleanly.
Afterwards Zou, the Chinese captain, congratulated Japan on a "very impressive performance" and said his side would go away and work to improve.For fans used to seeing the red lycra machine crush opponents with ruthless efficiency, the Chinese display in Incheon`s Namdong Gymnasium was surprisingly inconsistent.
Like Japan, they were robbed of a number of top performers because of the upcoming worlds, including Zhang Chenglong and Lin Chaopan, world champions in high bar and parallel bars.
The hit-and-miss display was typified by Liao Junlin, who finished first in the rings but 41st in the parallel bars and 26th in the pommel.
Japan, by contrast, were solid across the board -- three top-five finishers in the parallel bars and all five gymnasts in the top 11 on the rings helping them to an overall total of 355.475 points to China`s 350.875, with South Korea on 350.300.
"I thought the team which made the fewest mistakes would win the gold and we tried our best not to make any mistakes," captain Tusuke Saito, 26, told reporters.
But it was by no means a drab performance and there were moments of real flair, including Tomomasa Hasegawa pulling a Usain Bolt-style archer celebration after a superb, high-difficulty pommel routine.
That delighted the fairly sparse crowd, who roared the home side on in search of the gold they craved.
South Korean captain Lee Sang-Wook admitted that as they started their final floor routine with a slight chance of catching Japan, the team was slightly intimidated by the vociferous support.
"Many fans were cheering and it affected us a little -- except for Yang we`re not used to it," he said.