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ATHENS 2004

All-Around All-American

Like Hamm the night before, Patterson rallies in the final routines to overtake Khorkina and win the first U.S. title in the event since 1984.

August 20, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — For the second time in history -- and the first time in 20 years -- the United States has an Olympic women's gymnastics all-around champion.

Following in the footsteps of Mary Lou Retton, who became the first American to win the Olympic all-around title at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, 16-year-old Carly Patterson of Allen, Texas, emphatically followed her male teammate Paul Hamm in nailing her final two routines and knocking off crowd favorite Svetlana Khorkina of Russia on Thursday night at Olympic Indoor Hall.

Patterson finished with 38.387 points. Khorkina, 25, a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner on the uneven bars and the defending world all-around champion, finished with 38.211. China's Zhang Nan, 18, earned the bronze medal with 38.049.

Courtney Kupets, 18, of Gaithersburg, Md., who was competing despite a strained right hamstring, finished ninth.

A night earlier, Hamm had become the first American male to win the Olympic men's all-around title. This is the first time since 1988 in Seoul, when the Soviet Union's Vladimir Artemov and Yelena Shushunova won, that the same country has held both titles.

"It feels like I'm having a nonstop dream," USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi said.

Four years ago, the U.S. team left Sydney without a medal. Already this year, it has four -- two silvers in the team competition and now two golds. And individual event finals are still to come.

Like Hamm a night earlier, when he flew out of bounds and into the judge's table on his landing, Patterson was almost done in by the vault. Patterson didn't miss quite as badly but she did land out of bounds, an automatic deduction of two-tenths, and posted a relatively low 9.375.

The score left Patterson in eighth place after the first of four rotations. Her coach, Evgeny Marchenko, put his arm around Patterson and made a point.

"I told her, 'It's early. You can fight back. You're in the same situation as Paul Hamm was in. So keep going and get it back,' " Marchenko said.

Patterson recouped in grand style. She followed the vault with a careful, competent uneven bar routine. Two nights earlier, in the team competition, Patterson had badly botched the same set with a mistake that might have cost the U.S. team gold.

"She was angry with herself," Marchenko said. "She was disgusted in a way and I believe Carly used that to motivate herself tonight."

If Patterson wasn't spectacular on the uneven bars, she was smartly cautious. Her score of 9.575 helped pull her from eighth to fourth halfway through the competition.

And Patterson had her two favorite events to come. She believed, she said, that she was ready to earn a place in history.

"I knew what I could do and if I did it, I would win a medal," she said.

Light as air, Patterson danced on the balance beam, her third rotation. She landed somersaults on her tiptoes, floated gracefully to the mat and into a soft landing of her double-flip dismount.

Patterson muscled through her floor exercise routine with four tumbling passes of round-offs, double somersaults, pirouettes and more double twisting turns.

When she dug her toes into the floor, not moving an inch on her final landing, she threw her hands in the air, then threw herself into Marchenko's arms.

Patterson, her face glistening with sparkly makeup, wept with joy and relief as Marchenko twirled her in the air.

When Retton won the all-around gold 20 years ago, she did it with unabashed joy and without the burden of expectations. Coached by the effervescent, all-consuming Bela Karolyi, Retton wasn't even the most famous gymnast on the U.S. team. And even with the Soviet Union and many other Eastern Bloc nations boycotting the games, it was Romanian Eckaterina Szabo who was favored.

Since finishing second to Khorkina a year ago in Anaheim at the world championships, Patterson has heard herself called "the next Mary Lou."

"That's not easy," Retton had said earlier this year. "It's even a little unfair."

Unable to watch the competition live, Retton was at home in Texas receiving text message updates after each rotation. Reached by telephone after Patterson had won, Retton screamed and said, "I'm as excited now as when I won 20 years ago. We've waited a long time for this."

Khorkina was not as enthusiastic.

The 5-foot-5 veteran of three Olympics who has named herself "Queen of Gymnastics," pursed her lips and shook her head angrily when she received a vault score of 9.462, though it was the highest of the night. She barely cracked a smile when she dismounted from her specialty, the uneven bars, also with the best score on this tense night, 9.725.

Calling an obvious wobble on the balance beam "only a minor mistake," Khorkina -- who is thin as a paper cut and chose to wear a stark, black leotard that further emphasized her gauntness -- performed a showy floor routine that was not as technically difficult as Patterson's was later.

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