U.S. Falls As Chinese Women Win 1st Team Gold

American gymnast Alicia Sacramone competes on the beam during the women's team final i i

American gymnast Alicia Sacramone competes on the beam during the women's team final of the Beijing Olympic Games. China won the gold medal, while the U.S. won the silver and Romania the bronze. Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images
American gymnast Alicia Sacramone competes on the beam during the women's team final

American gymnast Alicia Sacramone competes on the beam during the women's team final of the Beijing Olympic Games. China won the gold medal, while the U.S. won the silver and Romania the bronze.

Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

It was one of the biggest showdowns of the Beijing Olympic Games — and China captured the victory. The Chinese women's gymnastics team beat out the United States to capture the gold medal. The U.S. team got the silver medal after its captain fell twice.

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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.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LANGFITT: The girls huddled together with their arms around each other's shoulders and cried. When the scores came down...

(Soundbite of cheering)

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.

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