U.S. Falls As Chinese Women Win 1st Team Gold
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's return to Beijing for a moment, because the Chinese women's gymnastics team crushed the U.S. in one of the Olympics' biggest showdowns. The U.S. settled for silver. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.
(Soundbite of crowd)
FRANK LANGFITT: That was the beginning of the end for the American women. With the Chinese ahead after two events, U.S. captain Alicia Sacramone tried to mount the balance beam, and fell. That cost her at least eight-tenths of a point in an unforgiving sport. Later, during the floor routine, she tumbled again, and any hopes for gold disappeared.
At 20, Sacramone is the team's oldest member.
Ms. ALICIA SACRAMONE (Captain, U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team): I thought there was an advantage for me just because I had been on the international team so long, I didn't let pressure (unintelligible) me. But today, you know, it just got the best of me.
LANGFITT: Women's National Team Director Martha Karolyi said Sacramone lost her concentration. She said it happened after officials made her wait an unduly long time to mount the balance beam. Karolyi said that although she had no proof, she thought the delay was deliberate.
Ms. MARTHA KAROLYI (Director, Women's National Gymnastics Team): I said, Alicia, they try to break you for good and you let them do it. Never should let that happen.
LANGFITT: After Sacramone's first fall, teammate Shawn Johnson took her arm in her hands and tried to cheer her up.
Ms. SACRAMONE: She was just telling me that she still loved me no matter what.
LANGFITT: Even without those mistakes, the Chinese might have won anyway. With the exception of one fall and a few stumbles, they were mostly flawless before a boisterous home crowd at the 18,000-seat national indoor stadium. As China's Cheng Fei completed a dazzling last floor routine, the crowd erupted.
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LANGFITT: The girls huddled together with their arms around each other's shoulders and cried. When the scores came down...
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LANGFITT: ...Cheng Fei pumped her little fist. The Chinese had beaten the Americans by more than two points. It was the continuation of a great rivalry. After splitting the last two world championships, the Chinese were on top again - on home soil.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Beijing.
INSKEEP: You can track the Olympic medal count, and pump your own little fist if you like, by going to NPR.org.