ATHENS, Greece – Sorry, Svetlana. There's a new Queen of Gymnastics, and her name is Carly Patterson (search).
The 16-year-old American who drew comparisons to Mary Lou Retton (search) delivered a dazzling routine on the floor to win the all-around gold Thursday night and spoil Russian superstar Svetlana Khorkina's (search) final chance at the Olympic title in gymnastics' premier event.
Patterson became the first American woman to win the all-around since Retton in 1984, and she matched Paul Hamm's first-place finish on the same floor Wednesday.
"Strong. Sturdy. Just like we expected. It's great. She was beautiful," said Bela Karolyi (search), who coached Retton and was in the stands for this one.
Patterson scored a 9.712 on floor to finish with 38.387 points and defeat Khorkina by .176. Nan Zhang of China won bronze.
Khorkina, who for years called herself the "Queen of Gymnastics," still took the one prize that has eluded her during an entertaining and wildly successful career — a medal in the Olympic all-around.
And when it was over, she acted like a champion, saluting the crowd, grabbing the Russian flag and taking it to the uneven bars, where she showed it off and dragged it across the lower bar. She'll try to add to her silver medal Sunday, going for her third gold in the uneven bars.
Patterson isn't close to being as graceful a ballerina as Khorkina. But she's more athletic, more explosive and on this night, she was just a little bit better.
Like Khorkina, Patterson closed the night on the floor. On all four tumbling passes, she jumped higher than any of the other 23 women in the meet. Just as importantly, she pulled off perfect landings that almost always make the difference between first and second place.
When it was over, Patterson jumped into coach Evgeny Marchenko's embrace and wrapped her arms around his neck. He then carried her around for almost a minute — and that was before the final results.
When they were posted, Patterson had the title she's worked so hard for, and Marchenko lifted her on his left shoulder and paraded her in front of the fans — a champion's chariot for a championship effort.
The other American in the competition, Courtney Kupets, struggled all night and finished ninth.
Last year at world championships, it was Khorkina edging out Patterson.
Two moments stood out then: Khorkina leaving the floor and admitting she was disinterested while Patterson was performing the decisive routine on vault. Then, at the medalists' news conference, Patterson stepping onto the podium to be greeted by Khorkina, who immediately started flipping through a magazine to show the American her latest modeling pictures.
An arrogant insult? Maybe so.
"I just thought, 'Whatever?"' Patterson said last month. "I'll go out and do my gymnastics and the best person will win."
She did just that.
Retton, who for two decades has been waiting impatiently to see who the "Next Mary Lou" might be, started screaming when she heard the news from home.
"I have been waiting 20 years. The crown has been sitting and waiting for the next all-around champion," she said. "Carly Patterson, it's yours."
During the medals ceremony, Patterson sang along with "The Star-Spangled Banner," played at the arena for the second straight night, and looked to be blinking back tears.
Khorkina, meanwhile, stared at the scoreboard and smiled at the fans, most of whom had come to see her.