China took the lead on Saturday after the completion of the first day of men's qualifying at the Gymnastics World Championships.
Despite a fall from the high bar by their best gymnast, Yang Wei, China led Olympic champion Japan and its star athlete Hiroyuki Tomita.
"We did well," Chinese coach Bai Yuanshao said. "We've got some young people competing for the first time. We can do better."
It was shaping up as a flawless day for China until the very end, when Yang surprisingly fell off the high bar, drawing gasps from the crowd. A few moments later, teammate Xiao Qin fell twice.
Despite those mistakes, China finished with 370.45 points, 2.7 more than Japan.
Japan coach Koji Gushiken gave his team a grade of about 60 out of 100.
"It was about what I expected, but we need to get better," Gush-iken said.
Russia was in third place, followed by Romania and surprising Canada. Another big surprise was Switzerland, which went through the evening without a mistake and finished sixth.
"It's never happened. We had a perfect night. In 50 years, it's never happened," said jubilant coach Kiraly Sander, who came from Hungary to revamp the program.
The remaining four of the championships' nine subdivisions were scheduled to take place yesterday, with Germany and Ukraine among those expected to vie for spots in the top eight.
The US was in 10th, already assured of not making team finals. It was an unthinkable result for the Athens silver medalists, even though the team has been totally revamped.
"They dealt with some pressures they've never had before," US coordinator Ron Brant said. "It's where it's not just you out there, it's your country."
The Italians performed well until their best gymnast, Olympic high bar champion Igor Cassina, took a nasty fall. He finished the routine, but bruised his chest so badly that he had to halt his next event, the pommel horse, halfway through the set.
"It was just very, very difficult," Cassina said of his bar routine.
Italy was in 12th place at the end of the day.
Sergei Khorokhordin and Maxim Deviatovski of Russia performed strong parallel bar routines to get the young team out in front in the morning action.
South Korea was led by Yang Tae-young, the gymnast whose parallel bars routine in the all-around caused an uproar in Athens. Yang won the bronze medal there, a result that wasn't confirmed until weeks later when the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the victory of Paul Hamm of the US.
The next Olympics will take place in Beijing and China wants to be successful there after finishing a disappointing fifth in Athens.
"We feel very good," Bai said.