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Poor Beth! Tweddle misses final in signature event

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LONDON (AP)

Beth Tweddle is in the midst of one of her best seasons and was competing in front of an adoring "hometown" crowd.

And yet she ended the day teary-eyed.

Britain's most decorated and beloved gymnast fell off the uneven bars during qualifying at the world championships Wednesday, costing her a shot at another title in her signature event. She did qualify for the floor exercise final.

"It's obviously gutting," Tweddle said. "To be honest, it's not been a great day."

For her and fans.

Britain is a budding gymnastics powerhouse, and its rise started with Tweddle. She won the country's first world medal on uneven bars in 2003 and gave Britain its first world title, also on bars, three years later. Since then, Louis Smith has won Britain's first Olympic medal in nearly a century, a bronze on pommel horse at the Beijing Games, and Daniel Keatings claimed the first all-around medal at a major championship with a silver at this year's Europeans.

But Britons hold a special place in their heart for Tweddle. The O2 was packed for her qualifying session, and just her appearance on the floor was enough to draw encouraging screams and cheers. When she landed her final tumbling pass on floor, the roar could be heard all the way from the East End to Buckingham Palace.

Her uneven bars routine was expected to be even better. But as she reached to grab the high bar after a release move, her hands crossed at the wrists, she could only brush the bar with the fingertips. As the crowd gasped, Tweddle hit the mat with a loud thud.

As further insult, the move she fell on is one that's named after her.

"To be honest, I don't know what happened," Tweddle said. "Leading up to (bars), I was really looking forward to it because the routines had been going so well."

With fans shouting encouragement, she got back up and finished her routine. Then, fighting tears, she addressed the crowd and thanked them for their support.

"It's hard now," she said, "because everyone is asking if I'm OK."

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QUICK START: Six months ago, Kayla Williams was competing at Level 10, the level below elites. Her one trip to the Karolyi ranch was for a developmental camp.

Look at her now.

The 16-year-old from Huntington, W.Va., created a stir at the world gymnastics championships Wednesday, posting the top score on vault and one of the best on floor.

"It's crazy," Williams said. "It would definitely be easy to get swept up and realize this is the world championships. But I'm taking it like a regular meet. It's the same events, the same skills."

Yeah, but in front of thousands of people.

"Before my floor routine, I thought I was going to throw up," Williams acknowledged.

She didn't, of course. And her performance Wednesday showed she's someone to keep an eye on in the run-up to 2012 - which just happens to be in the same O2 arena.

A powerful tumbler who has a nice artistic side, too, she scored a 13.9 on floor that just missed qualifying her for Sunday's final. She might have made it had she competed later in the day; Williams was in the second of five rotations, and scores tend to climb as the day goes on.

She has great height, power and form on vault, and her combined score of 14.812 topped Olympic gold medalist Hong Un-jong of North Korea.

If Williams' experience Wednesday sounds strangely familiar, it is. Alicia Sacramone followed a similar pattern at the 2005 world championships, winning the title on floor and a bronze on vault. She went on to become a staple of the U.S. team that won the 2007 world title and the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics.

"The 2012 Olympics, of course it's always in the back of my mind," Williams said. "For now, I'm going to focus on one step at a time."

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ON THE RISE: North Korea's Hong Un-jong may have started a trend.

Hong's gold on vault at the Beijing Games was the first Olympic medal by a North Korean woman. At the world gymnastics championships Wednesday, Hong was one of three North Koreans to advance to the event finals. Hong qualified on vault, while Kim Un-hyang made the all-around and balance beam finals. Cha Yong-hwa will compete in the uneven bars final.

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ROPES AND MATS: No surprise, China's He Kexin had the highest score of the day, a 15.975 on uneven bars. The Olympic gold medalist is famous for testing the limits of gymnastics' open-ended scoring system. ... Britain's Rebecca Downie's balance beam dismount was so amped up she rolled completely off the 3-foot podium. She was unhurt, popping right back up to salute the judges. ... All four American women qualified for an event final.