Each Monday in the Toy Department, a Sun sports writer will take a moment to offer his or her Endorsement of something he or she feels passionately about. There are no rules, and the subject can be as broad, or as narrow, as the writer chooses. This week, Candy Thomson explains how one Maryland gymnast has blossomed into a champion. For previous editions of The Endorsement, click here.

Endorsement: Courtney Kupets

As a world-class gymnast, Courtney Kupets's Achilles' heel is her Achilles' heel. Both of them, as a matter of fact.

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Twice in her career, the graduate of Montgomery County's Magruder High School has had to battle back from torn tendons. The first time, she ripped the left tendon at the world championships less than a year before the 2004 Olympics. She came back to win bronze and silver medals at the Athens Summer Games.

Last year, she tore the right tendon, preventing her from defending her 2006 and 2007 all-around titles at the NCAA women's gymnastics championships. She more than made up for it over the weekend, when she regained the overall title, won three individual events (uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise) and led her University of Georgia teammates to the national crown.

Her nine NCAA individual titles makes her the most decorated woman gymnast. Kupets is the first woman to claim a national gymnastics title in every event and in the all-around.

Her coach, Suzanne Yoculan, called Kupets, "the Muhammad Ali of gymnastics — the greatest."

Said Kupets, "I just go out and do what I do."

How dominant was Kupets at the collegiate championships? She was the only gymnast to qualify for the finals in all four individual events. With 10.0 being a perfect score, Kupets earned a 9.9875 on the balance beam, a 9.95 on the floor exercise and a 9.95 on the uneven bars. She tied for third in the vault, with a score of 9.8563.

Endorsement: Courtney Kupets

During the regular season, she won the all-around competition in all but one meet and also took the Southeast regional title. There's more: she's a former two-time national champion and 2002 world champion on the uneven bars.

Surprising? Hardly. Pre-Athens, Kupets trained at Kelli Hill's gym in Gaithersburg, where Olympians Dominique Dawes and Elsie Ray honed their skills.

And like those two, Kupets is always modest in victory.

"I'm a senior and this is my last year, so I wanted to go out with a bang," she told reporters after the NCAA finals. "And zero regrets, our team motto for the week."

But let's let Yoculan, the coach of 10 championship teams, have the final word:

"I'm not talking about athleticism, necessarily. I mean, Ashleigh (Clare-Kearney) is, wow, her power and explosiveness is much better than Courtney's. Now if you want to break down the all-time best gymnast ever and include so many different things, we all know a lot of gymnasts that are more flexible than her, that are more explosive than Courtney. But the combination of mental and physical is what I'm referring to.

"A weekend like this, three days in a row, four events each day...just the mental strength behind that, I've never witnessed that in 26 years."

You can see for yourself when CBS broadcasts taped coverage at 2 p.m. on May 9.

Photos: Associated Press

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