Patterson flies high in uplifting victory

She rallies to beat Khorkina for all-around gold, first by a U.S. woman since 1984

Women's Gymnastics

Athens Olympics 2004

August 20, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - It shouldn't have been a surprise that Carly Patterson won the gold medal in the women's Olympic all-around gymnastics competition last night.

Paul Hamm did the same thing in the men's competition the previous evening.

The U.S. men won the team silver medal. So did the women.

Brett McClure finished ninth in the all-around. Nursing a pulled muscle, Courtney Kupets did, too.

In winning the gold over 23 other gymnasts, including silver medalist Svetlana Khorkina, the self-proclaimed "Queen of Gymnastics," Patterson became the first American woman to earn all-around gold since Mary Lou Retton in 1984.

"I've worked all my life for this," Patterson said. "I'm just so excited and happy. You dream your whole life about this, and then to win the gold medal is amazing."

Zhang Nan of China won the bronze.

On Tuesday, Patterson had an inconsistent performance in the team competition, especially on the uneven bars, where she nearly fell. She said she was determined not to let it affect her all-around performance.

"Everybody told me to come back with a vengeance, and I did. I was so ready for the competition tonight," said the native of Baton Rouge, La.

Patterson, 16, has had a quick rise to the top. She shares the national gymnastics title with Kupets, of Gaithersburg. In her first international competition as an elite gymnast, Patterson won the all-around silver medal at the 2003 world championships and helped lead the squad to the team gold medal.

Patterson was behind the graceful Khorkina through the first two routines, vault and uneven bars. It looked as if the Russian, the two-time defending Olympic champion on the bars and 2000 silver medalist on the floor exercise, might win the medal that has eluded her through a 14-year career.

But when Khorkina stumbled on the balance beam, Patterson took advantage and inched ahead.

It all came down to the floor exercise. Khorkina was second of the six gymnasts in the group. Patterson went last.

Patterson's coach, Evgeny Marchenko, leaned down to talk to his gymnast.

"I said, `Baby, don't look at the scores. Do your routine the way you can do it. You've got to compete with yourself. Not with Svetlana. Not with anybody. It's who's going to do the best routine on the floor,' " Marchenko said.

Khorkina spun and pirouetted and showed her first smile of the evening as the crowd clapped along with her routine. The judges gave her a 9.562, which drew whistles of disapproval.

Then it was Patterson's turn, and she simply exploded. Her first tumbling pass was sky-high and was surpassed by her second pass. She appeared to gain confidence with each element of her routine.

Khorkina smiled slightly and walked away.

When the scoreboard showed she had won by .176 of a point, Patterson leaped into Marchenko's arms and wept on his shoulder. He carried her around the gym on his shoulder as she waved to the crowd.

"I said, `Baby, you're the all-around Olympic champion,' " Marchenko said.

Across the gym, Khorkina staged her own victory celebration, waving to the crowd and parading around with the Russian flag. As she left the gym, she shrieked and cried in the arms of Russian journalists. While sitting next to Patterson at a news conference afterward, Khorkina hinted that the judging was faulty.

"I have no comment on the judging. They are the ones who are going to have to live with their consciences. I'm perfectly well. I'm still an Olympic champion. I was in Atlanta, I was in Sydney and I'm here, also.

"There probably wasn't a difference between my performance and the American. I am from Russia. She is from the U.S.A.," she said, letting loose with a raspberry. Then she added, "Just kidding."

Patterson stared at the floor or straight ahead.

U.S. gymnastics officials who had all but guaranteed a team gold medal looked first relieved, then ecstatic.

"Strong. Sturdy. Just like we expected," said a beaming Bela Karolyi, Retton's coach in 1984 and the husband of U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

Marchenko said he could not have been prouder of the gymnast he calls "Harley-Davidson" for her power.

"She never let go of this chance. ... I knew she had the opportunities," Marchenko said. "I knew she had the talent. Today, this moment came, and I'm so glad she never let it go."

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