FAIRFAX, Va. - Carly Patterson found herself yesterday in a familiar position: at the edge of an exercise mat, the last athlete to perform in an international gymnastics meet with first place on the line.
But instead of falling apart as she did at the Goodwill Games 18 months ago, the 15-year-old Texan lived up to her nickname, "Harley-Davidson," and roared through a nearly flawless routine to win $10,000 and individual all-around honors at the 2003 Visa American Cup gymnastics competition.
"I just forgot about that. It was a good learning experience," Patterson said of the Goodwill Games. "I don't get very nervous."
The U.S. women's squad swept the top four spots, with Marylanders Courtney Kupets and Ashley Postell finishing second and third, and Annia Hatch taking fourth.
On the men's side, two-time Olympian Blaine Wilson won the gold medal and $10,000 as he began his comeback from shoulder surgery. Teammate Brett McClure was second and Japan's Hiroyuki Tomita third.
Patterson, the reigning junior national champion, finished first on the balance beam, second in the vault and uneven bars and third in the floor exercise. But it was her engaging personality that won over the crowd of 7,111 at the Patriot Center, many of whom had come to cheer local favorites Kupets and Postell.
Kupets, from Gaithersburg, is the world champion in the uneven bars. Postell, from Cheverly, is the world champion in the balance beam. Their fans created a din each time the spotlight fell on them.
"I could hear them the whole time. They gave me energy," said a grinning Kupets, who had 38.199 points to Patterson's 38.662.
This was the first time Hatch competed on the U.S. team.
The former member of the Cuban national team was added to the team last week as a replacement for Tasha Schwikert, a two-time national champion still recovering from ankle surgery.
Although the 4-foot-9 Patterson was the youngest of the eight female athletes competing, her teammates weren't surprised at her performance.
"She's an awesome gymnast," Kupets said. "She hit every routine."
Her coach, Yevgeny Marchenko, said the Goodwill Games fiasco helped Patterson develop poise and maturity.
"She learned a big lesson. She handles pressure, a very good quality in a gymnast," he said.
The meet lost a star when Elena Zamolodchikova of Russia, who was seventh after the vault, landed awkwardly on her uneven bars dismount and twisted her foot. The Olympic double gold medalist was forced out of the last two events.
That meant Patterson, next in order, had to go early. Instead of being rattled, she performed a difficult routine that ended in a dismount with a blind landing. That brought a roar from the crowd and a score that beat Postell, the world champion.
"She's incredibly calm," said Paul Ziert, publisher of International Gymnast magazine. "And I don't think that's something you can teach."
At the 2000 Olympics, the U.S. gymnasts finished fourth and captured more headlines with their internal bickering.
Yesterday served as a statement to the gymnastics world that the American team has its house in order, said USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi.
"We have a pipeline now that will continue to produce athletes from now until the end of the world. It was harder to make one of the four spots [on the squad] than to win the meet," he said. "The depth is there. Line up our athletes shoulder-to-shoulder, and you can't put a piece of paper between them."