|Teng Haibin of China competes on the Horizontal Bar aparatus in men's qualification [GALLO/GETTY]
World and Olympic men's team gymnastics champions China dropped to a surprise third place in qualifying at the world gymnastics championships in Tokyo on Monday as hosts Japan took first place.
Japan - who have not won a world team gold in 33 years - came top with 364.291 points, ahead of the United States on 361.583 and China, who performed on Monday, back on 359.126.
China's squad, studded with world and Olympic apparatus champions, insisted they would come out on top in the team finals on Wednesday.
"Of course, we want to finish as number ones. It was just a qualifying session today," said Chen Yibing, a three-time world rings champion, who also won the 2008 Olympic gold in the event.
"We were third but it didn't mean we have lost anything," said Zou Kai, who won the floor and high bar titles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at home.
The top three were joined by Germany, Russia, South Korea, Romania and Ukraine in qualifying for Wednesday's team finals - when Japan will have more time between rotations as top qualifiers - and booking berths at next year's London Olympics.
The 9th-16th countries earned the right to compete for the remaining four Olympic slots in a second-chance qualifying round in London in January.
Japan were led by Kohei Uchimura, seeking an unprecedented third straight all-around title, and who battled against a fear of recurring leg cramps to power his team into the lead on the first day of qualifying on Sunday.
"The finals will be fought on the same day unlike the qualifying round which was contested over two different days and in different conditions," said China's 23-year-old Zou.
"The finals will be fought on the same day unlike the qualifying round which was contested over two different days and in different conditions"
China's Zou Kai
China, a team of specialists, got off to a promising start as Zou scored an unrivalled 15.700 points on floor exercise, China's first event.
As expected, Chen dazzled on rings to top the event with 15.700. Feng Zhe, determined to retain his parallel bars title, topped the table on the event with 15.508.
But the team slipped back on the final rotation, horizontal bar, when Zhang Chenglong and Feng Zhe, world and Olympic champions respectively in the event, scored too low to lift China.
China have won the last four world men's team titles as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold.
The Japanese men were 2004 Athens Olympic champions, but their last world team title came in 1978.