NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Courtney Kupets may have torn her Achilles' tendon last summer, but she didn't show weakness in her heel or anywhere else last night at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
The reigning all-around national champion from Gaithersburg led all 32 competitors, completing her four routines with a total score of 38.225, and winning the balance beam.
"I was confident," Kupets said, beaming. "Right now, winning nationals isn't as important as doing all my routines cleanly ... but who wouldn't want it?"
The all-around finals will be held tomorrow night.
Texan Carly Patterson, who hasn't finished lower than second in any national or international competition since 2001, is right behind Kupets with a score of 38.150. Tasha Schwikert of Las Vegas finished third with a 37.700.
Courtney McCool, the 16-year-old whiz kid from Missouri who burst onto the scene at this year's American Cup, tied Kupets after the first routine and shadowed her the rest of the evening until the final moments of her final routine.
McCool was going for her dismount off the uneven bars when he right hand slipped and she fell flat on her back. She needed a 9.725 to catch Kupets. She finished a full point lower, which moved her from second place to eighth.
"It was a small setback, but it was a shock," she said.
Kupets finished with a 9.6 on uneven bars, a 9.725 on balance beam, a 9.5 on floor exercise and a 9.4 on the vault.
"She is definitely all the way back," said Shannon Miller, the most decorated U.S. gymnast, with 16 Olympic and world championship medals. "She's blown everyone away with her preparation. I think she's better than she was a year ago."
Kupets tore her left Achilles' while warming up last August at the world championships. Kupets underwent surgery just days after the accident and began intensive rehabilitation and a slow return to competition this spring.
The 17-year-old showed no hesitation on any routine. Her powerful floor exercise brought a huge cheer from the crowd at the Gaylord Entertainment Center and smile to the face of her coach, Kelli Hill.
"I think she's well-rested and eager to go," Hill said as Kupets received her medals.
The top 12 women and 12 men will be invited to the Olympic trials in Anaheim, Calif., at the end of the month.
The other Maryland competitor, Corey Hartung of Gaithersburg, who was just weeks from getting a cast off her foot, finished 28th, with a score of 34.600.
The senior and junior men will compete in their finals today.