Despite the loss of two of its leading competitors, including the Olympic all-round and floor champion Lilia Podkopayeva, the Ukraine was holding second place behind Romania's 151.469 points. With Podkopayeva forced out due to an inflamed left Achilles tendon, and Viktoria Karpenko sidelined with two broken fingers, the four remaining Ukrainians rallied with dynamic routines, leaping to the top of the qualifying standings with 149.382 points.
With Russia and China still to compete, Romania, Ukraine (149.382) and France (147.190) appeared poised for entry into Thursday's team finals.
The US team, also weakened by the absence of three of its top women, eked out a small but very important lead over Belarus, keeping alive hopes of making the team competition.
Fielding a full, albeit secondary, six-woman team, the Americans appeared somewhat nervous, turning in slightly shaky if consistent performances.
With a combined score of 146.757 points, the US squad finished just 0.275 ahead of Belarus, which was led by their uneven bars co-world champion, Elena Piskun.
The lead over Belarus was an important marker for the Americans, who are looking to finish in the top six to qualify for the team finals and must still wait for traditional powers Russia and China to compete.
"I think it's really important and I feel really good because Belarus is a big contender," said the US women's coach, Mary Lee Tracy. "That was one of the teams I felt we needed to stay in front of, to be in the top six. We had one kind of low score but other than that we did OK. That was the test."
The championships will be a test for all of the world's gymnastics powers, most of whom have seen a dramatic turn-over since the Olympics.
The United States has just one member of its 1996 US Olympic women's gold-medal team, the 15-year-old Dominique Moceanu.Reuse content