A little trickery, a bit of controversy, a costly slip and, presto, the same old thing: a CIS victory and American loss in gymnastics.
Tatiana Gutsu, inserted into the Commonwealth of Independent States starting lineup through a bit of roster sleight of hand, captured the sport's most coveted medal Thursday night, the women's all-around, with a steady stream of high scores.
Shannon Miller, 15, took the silver medal, although her coach said she was robbed. But the American dream of a 1-2 finish was shattered when world champion Kim Zmeskal, 16, failed to stick her landing at the end of her floor routine and stepped out of bounds.
The finale had been billed as a possible all-American showdown between Miller and Zmeskal, a rivalry that has intensified with Miller's ascending career.
"This wasn't between me and Kim," Miller said with the silver medal draped around her neck. "This was just me going out and hitting my routines, and training hard and trying to win the gold."
Miller, from Edmond, Okla., just missed catching Gutsu. Only .12 points separated the two, with Gutsu at 39.737 and Miller scoring 39.725. Romania's Lavinia Milosovici won the bronze, scoring 39.687.
Zmeskal, her routines shaky after her early mistake, was 10th with 39.412 points.
Gutsu's climb to the top of the gymnastics world was propelled by scores of 9.950 on the uneven bars and vault, the last one coming after Miller had momentarily taken the lead with a 9.975 vault.
Gutsu, 15, was considered the best all-around women's gymnast on the Unified Team, but was fourth after the optional exercises. Only the top three are supposed to advance to the all-around finals.
However, the coaches substituted Gutsu for Rosa Galieva, who was reported out with a knee injury.
While Gutsu was getting second life, Zmeskal was breathing her last chance at an improbable come-from-behind victory.
Zmeskal fell off the balance beam in Tuesday's compulsories, then staged a sensational comeback in optionals to make the all-around finals. But in the finals, she was done even before she started.
A judging controversy that delayed her opening act for several minutes and an elementary mistake at the end of her routine shot down the heroine from Houston.
Zmeskal, who became the country's first world champion last September, finished her plunge where it began two nights earlier--a 9.80 on the balance beam, her final event.
Miller, the top scorer through the first two rounds of competition, fired everything she had at Gutsu, and it came up just short. Her final was the vault, after which she leaped into the arms of coach Steve Nunno.
Nunno swirled her in his arms, then gently placed her back on the blue runway for a curtain call from the frenzied crowd.
Miller added a 9.90 on the floor and 9.25s on the beam and on the uneven bars--her first event of the night. It was the latter score, said an angry Nunno, that cost Miller the gold.
"It was a better bar routine than two nights earlier, when she got a 9.95," said Nunno. "That was the difference. She was the winner, no doubt in my mind. I thought it was a 10. It was like they (judges) were holding out for some superhuman being that doesn't exist."
"I came in tonight to do the best that I could and try to win a gold medal," Miller said. "I'm very proud to bring the silver medal back to the United States."
Zmeskal's problems started even before the music to her routine on the floor. Noticeably nervous from the time she marched into the arena, her eyes scanning the overhead lights, she further unraveled during a seven-minute delay before she could take the floor.
Her feet shuffling while the judges reached a consensus on the score of Japan's Mari Kosuge, Zmeskal tugged at her leotard. She wiped her hands several times, took several short jumps and arched her back trying to get loose.
For the opening seconds of her routine, it appeared she had escaped unscathed.
With "Rock Around The Clock" accompanying her every hip swing and catapulting move, Zmeskal nailed her opening series of double-back somersaults. But on her final somersaulting series, her left foot skipped across the white border for a .10 deduction.
Seconds later, a 9.775, confirmed what Zmeskal already knew: She was finished just as the night was beginning.
Her head drooped and her shoulders trembling, Zmeskal rushed off the mat. She got a conciliatory hug from her mentor, U.S. Coach Bela Karolyi, then rushed to a curtain-draped barrier, her back to the mat where her medal hopes lay.
Her eyes watery at times, Zmeskal regrouped enough to score 9.90 on the uneven bars and a 9.937 on the vault. But by the time she reached the beam, the strain had drained her.
She wobbled twice while executing back somersaults, the second time barely staying on the beam and avoiding a replay of her fall 48 hours earlier.
"It wasn't the best night of my life," Zmeskal said. "I did one of my better vaults and probably one of the best bars of my life, but the scores weren't going high for me."
Perhaps trying to find some consolation, Zmeskal said she knew even before her mistake on the floor that this was someone else's night.
"It was only a 10th of a point, and even if I hadn't gone out, my score would not have been very good," she said. "In competition, other people are likely to make mistakes."