Subtle errors mean silver
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- She was shaking her hips, twirling her hands, letting that high-wattage smile shine and turning the arena into her own little disco.
Then, oops ... Courtney Kupets bobbled a bit during a routine dance move.
Anyone looking away for a second would've missed it. Too bad gymnastics judges are always paying attention.
Mistakes, both big and small, were the difference between silver and gold Tuesday night. A tenth by a tenth, the Americans kept losing points. When it was over, Romania had won its second straight Olympic gold medal and the United States had taken silver.
"We wanted to win, but they did a good job, and they deserved it," Kupets said. "It's not bad winning silver at the Olympics."
Had a few things gone differently, though, first place could have been theirs.
But Carly Patterson got hung up on the uneven bars, forced to muscle her way out of a huge mistake and clipping her foot against the lower bar as she tried to save the routine.
Mohini Bhardwaj wobbled a bit on the balance beam.
Terin Humphrey took a little step backward when she jumped off the beam after an otherwise clean routine.
The United States lost by 0.699 points in what Bela Karolyi, the husband of American team coordinator Martha, called the best international meet he'd seen in 20 years.
"We made small mistakes," Karolyi said. "Small mistakes are to be paid for. And we paid."
Russia, led by Svetlana Khorkina, took the bronze medal and shared hugs and kisses to celebrate third place.
The Americans didn't look nearly as happy watching Romania close the night on the floor. Patterson, Kupets and company sat stoically at one end of the arena, and gave perfunctory applause to the clutch efforts put in by Oana Ban, Daniela Sofronie and the Romanian star of the night, Catalina Ponor.
A few minutes later, the U.S. girls turned on the spin cycle.
Sure, they said, everyone was happy to win a medal. No, there's no shame finishing second to a powerhouse like Romania. And remember, this was lots better than the last Olympics, when the program left Sydney in disarray after finishing fourth, without a single medal for the first time since 1976.
All of it was true.
But the Americans were the defending world champions. They hadn't lost a meet in nearly two years. Martha Karolyi hand-picked this team to perform under the pressure of the world's biggest stage. She preached perfection without end, and on the day the United States needed it most, perfection was nowhere to be seen.
"We do all we can do to put these girls under pressure during our selection process," Karolyi said. "But anything you do is still not the Olympic games. Just the idea of the Olympic games -- there's always more pressure."
The Americans did manage to come through on many counts.
Bhardwaj wasn't scheduled to perform on beam, but went out on short notice after Kupets decided to sit due to a pulled hamstring that had been bugging her for weeks. Bhardwaj scored a 9.4 and coach Kelli Hill called it a "phenomenal performance" given the circumstances.
Patterson recovered from the busted bars routine to dazzle on the floor in the final U.S. routine of the night. She exploded off the mat, hit all her landings and even drew the attention of Khorkina, who went up to her after the meet, jokingly pointing at her and possibly talking about the showdown they'll have in the all-around on Thursday.
Patterson scored a 9.662, matching America's highest score of the night, but it was too late.