Women's gymnastics must regroup quickly

Updated: August 15, 2004, 12:47 PM ET
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine

ATHENS, Greece -- The U.S. women's gymnastics team spent the moments after its disappointing second-place finish Saturday afternoon trying hard to smile.

Team USA
With cameras all around, Team USA was all smiles. But later, tears belied their brave faces.
"We're in second, so that's awesome," said Courtney McCool.

"As a team we did pretty well," said Courtney Kupets.

"I think we had a good day," said coach Kelli Hill.

They finessed through all the media questions about the deepest and most talented team in U.S. history losing to Romania in the qualifiers 152.436 to 151.848. But, finally, when the notebooks closed and the cameras were turned off, the cracks showed.

McCool teared up, frustrated in particular with her 9.250 floor routine in which she stepped out of bounds. She knew she might not make any of the individual events.

Terin Humphrey sighed. Some of the coaches put their arms around the gymnasts, telling them to keep their chins up. But they looked anything but happy.

Not everyone was upset. Carly Patterson didn't score lower than a 9.500 on any event, including a 9.725 on the balance beam. Defending world champ Courtney Kupets finished fourth overall, topping out with a 9.637 on the uneven bars.

Still, the U.S. team wasn't its best, highlighted by a streak where Humphrey, McCool and Patterson all stepped out of bounds on the floor exercise. Hill even tried to put a positive spin on the sloppiness -- "It's unusual to see a foot go out of bounds, but it's OK. Life goes on." -- but it didn't sell. After her routine was over, McCool hustled to the sideline, cameras close behind, to get herself back together. Team captain Mohini Bhardwaj followed her.

The team spent a lot of time Saturday afternoon huddling up. Cajoling. Staying positive. They have to. In the end, all they have is each other. Their families are here, but haven't been able to see their daughters yet. Some parents were hoping they could get a five-minute phone conversation in some time Saturday. Security concerns, practice, wanting to stay away from distractions, it's what life is like for the team. No women on the team have been to an Olympics before. Everything is new.

All is not lost. The team gets to start fresh on Tuesday. When it won the world championships last summer, it trailed Romania going into the second day. "We made some mistakes," said Kupets. "We can fix them all."

She and her teammates can only hope they can finish their repairs by then.

Seth Wickersham covers the Olympics for ESPN The Magazine.

Seth Wickersham | email

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.

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