Friday, August 20, 2004

Patterson wins all-around gold

By Greg Boeck, USA TODAY ATHENS � Don't call her the next Mary Lou Retton anymore. Carly Patterson made a name for herself Thursday. She's the Golden Girl of gymnastics now Carly Patterson competes in the floor exercise, scoring the highest of this competition � 9.712. Right in front of Russian diva Svetlana Khorkina, the pony-tailed princess of the burgeoning U.S. women's gymnastics program turned into a queen at Olympic Indoor Hall. Inspired by fellow American Paul Hamm's magical comeback in winning gold Wednesday in the men's all-around, Patterson overcame a shaky eighth-place start after the vault to match Retton's 1984 Olympic gold in the women's all-around. "It's a new era," bellowed Bela Karoyli, the coach who turned Retton into the U.S.'s first all-around Olympic champion in 1984. " It's a new chapter in American gymnastics." Added Martha Karolyi, U.S. team coordinator: "This is Carly's coming out." The page officially turned with Patterson, 16, celebrating atop her coach's shoulders and Khorkina, 25 and competing in her third and final Olympics, waving to the crowd as she left the floor, beaten by .176 points. Patterson, from Allen, Texas, totaled 38.387 in the four events and Khorkina 38.211. China's Nan Zhang won bronze (38.049). Courtney Kupets of Gaithersburg, Md., finished ninth, obviously hampered by a muscle pull in her right leg. Khorkina, who beat Patterson out of the gold at last year's world championships in Anaheim, Calif., relinquished her throne reluctantly, if not defiantly. "I'm still Olympic champion," said Khorkina, the three-time world all-around champion who has won two Olympic golds in bars. Asked to explain, she added, "I'm saying I'm twice an Olympic champion. If somebody doesn't know, I was an Olympic champion in Atlanta and Sydney." But that was then, and this is now. Patterson, sitting next to her in the interview room, looked quizzically at the rival she beat, then turned away and smiled. This was her moment, her time, her stage and no one could take it away now. "I don't even know what to say right now I'm so happy," she said. "I've dreamed of this my whole life. It's amazing." So was she. Patterson came into the competition the top qualifier, but she displayed uncharacteristic cracks in her armor with sub-par showings in the vault and bars in the U.S.'s silver effort in the team finals two nights earlier. Then she opened the all-around with a crooked landing on the vault and a score of 9.375 that placed her eighth. Her coach, Evgeny Marchenko, took her aside. "I told her, 'It's OK,'" he said. "It's only the beginning. Don't worry about scores, keep working." The pressure was on, but Patterson rose to the top of the U.S. program with pressure performances. She embraced the challenge, and tore a page out of Hamm's golden comeback. "I know about Paul Hamm's story and his comeback," she said. "And I knew if I could hit the best routines I would have a chance." She moved into fourth with a 9.575 score on bars, then put Khorkina in her rearview mirror with a stunning 9.725 on the beam. That set the stage for the final event of the night, the floor exercise which is one of her strengths. She watched Khorkina score a 9.562 and prance off. Patterson had to wait through two more performers. That left her as the final competitor on the floor, a pressure-cooker position with the gold on the line. She needed 9.573 to win, and she nailed a nearly flawless 9.712. "She proved she's the one who can handle the pressure," said Marchenko. When the winning score flashed on the scoreboard overhead, she leaped into Marchenko's arms and cried. "There was a lot of emotion there," he said. "It's been a tough, long road." Patterson emerged from the pack of U.S. women gymnasts the last 18 months and drew comparisons to Retton from Martha Karolyi. She arrived at the Games with her leaping split on 70 million McDonald bags � and delivered the goods Thursday. "She loves the crowd," said Kupets. "She is so mentally tough," said Martha Karolyi. The clutch performance left her casting her own shadow in gymnastics. "This means a whole lot," she said. "I worked all my life to be an Olympic champion. All the work paid off." It paid off on the biggest stage in the world, against Khorkina, one of the most decorated gymnasts in history with five Olympic and 20 world medals won in her career. Marchenko soaked in the moment. "It's sweet revenge," he said. "We've been waiting all year to do this. I know Svetlana is a great gymnast. She made a statement in the world forever. But Carly said her words tonight." They rang loud and clear. And royally. USA Today - Article ----------------------------- She did it! I saw her on vault, uneven, balance beam, floor....but I passed out before I saw who got what. YES! This IS my favorite event at the Olympics, and I had to fall asleep. Anyway, congratulations Carly! Whoooo hoooooo! Nicely done! =)

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