Carly Patterson stands 4 foot 9 inches. She likes bike riding and sparkly hair gel, and she'll put the $10,000 she earned for winning the VISA American Cup all-around gymnastics title toward buying a car, though she turned 15 last month and isn't old enough to drive without a licensed adult beside her.
"I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning it because I was having really good practices and a good training camp," she said. "But I'm sort of surprised."
Patterson, of Allen, Texas, won't surprise anyone anymore. Although the American Cup was her first international meet at the senior level, she defeated a field that featured U.S. teammates Courtney Kupets, the world uneven bars champion, and Ashley Postell, the world balance beam champion. Elena Zamolodchikova of Russia, a double-gold medalist at the Sydney Olympics, withdrew after injuring her left knee on a fall while dismounting from the uneven bars.
"I was just training really hard and I had a lot of confidence coming in," said Patterson, last year's U.S. junior champion. "Our team is doing so great. We have a really good future."
Patterson accumulated 38.662 points and led a U.S. sweep of the top four places. Kupets was second, with 38.199, followed by Postell (37.899) and Cuban-born Annia Hatch, who had 37.274 points in her first meet as a U.S. citizen. But it was Patterson who stole the show with her fearlessness and solid technique.
"She is one of those little girls who is extremely steady in all four events, and that's her strength," said Martha Karolyi, coordinator of the U.S. women's national team. "She has no weakness."
The American Cup is the first major international meet of the gymnastics season and has long been a springboard to international success. The appreciative crowd of 7,111 at George Mason University's Patriot Center knew it was witnessing the emergence of a new star in Patterson, who earned the meet's highest mark, 9.837, on the balance beam. Her routine included moves attempted by few women, including a standing Arabian -- a jump and a half twist leading to a flip on the four-inch-wide beam.
"I call her Harley Davidson because she is very powerful," said Latvian-born Evgeny Marchenko, who coaches Patterson in Plano, Texas. "She's a very positive person and she's a perfectionist. She wants to do everything good. She's smiling a lot and she handles the pressure very good, too."
Blaine Wilson had to handle considerable pain to win his fifth American Cup men's title. He dislocated the middle finger on his right hand on his first tumbling pass of the first event, floor exercise, but stoically continued. Like most of the men, he struggled on the pommel horse and fell off, but he was otherwise satisfied.
"Besides the horse it was a pretty good meet," said Wilson, who had the top scores on floor exercise (9.6), rings (9.7) and parallel bars (9.675). "I was tentative on the horse and it cost me.... This is a kickoff, a stepping stone. I think we look good."
U.S. teammate Brett McClure was second, Sean Townsend fourth and Guard Young sixth. All in all, it was a satisfying meet for a U.S. program still rebuilding after it was unable to win any medals at the Sydney Olympics. "We've worked so hard since Sydney to get back to this point," said Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics. "And we're back strong, and unified."