ATHENS, Greece – They were the kind of mistakes only judges see — little touches that seem so inconsequential. But they add up, and they cost the U.S. gymnastics team a gold medal. The Americans settled for silver Tuesday night, done in as much by their own sloppiness as Romania's superiority. They had errors on every event, costing them valuable fractions of points. They finished with 113.584, just behind the Romanians, who won their second straight gold medal. Russia won the bronze.
"We made small mistakes," said Bela Karolyi (search), whose wife, Martha, is the coordinator of the team. "Small mistakes are to be paid for. And we paid."
And the Americans knew it. After Carly Patterson (search) closed out the team's night with a saucy, sassy floor routine that had the Olympic Indoor Hall rocking, she and her teammates sat somberly on the sideline as the Romanians took the floor.
Romania, which had finished second to the United States at last summer's world championships, had to average only 9.35 points per routine to catch the Americans. They did it with ease.
Daniela Sofronie (search) soared above the floor on her tumbling passes, flying so high fans sitting in the first few rows had to look up to see her.
Catalina Ponor, the final Romanian, brought the crowd to its feet with one of the finest routines of the night. Technically perfect, she stuck her landings with sureness and confidence. Her teammates were already hugging each other and crying when her music stopped, and Ponor sprinted off the mat with a grin on her face. Even Karolyi had to applaud.
The Americans, meanwhile, sat glumly in their seats. A few clapped. Most simply stared ahead, perhaps thinking about all the wasted opportunities.
A silver medal is nothing to be ashamed of, of course. The U.S. men won one Monday night and were positively giddy at their prize. But the women are world champions, perhaps the best team the United States has ever put on the floor, and this was supposed to be their coronation.