Patti Kupets swears that many students at Magruder High in
Rockville, Md., have no idea what her daughter, Courtney, a
senior-to-be with a 4.0 GPA, does in her spare time. "She likes
it that way," says Patti.
By next semester Courtney's off-campus hobby will be a secret no
longer. After winning the Olympic trials in June, Kupets, 18,
heads a group of six competitors charged with bringing Olympic
glory back to U.S. gymnastics. The squad has been chosen
specifically to recapture the team gold won by the U.S. in '96.
(American gymnasts went medalless in 2000.) Kupets and two
teammates, 16-year-olds Courtney McCool and Carly Patterson, also
have the potential to win the U.S.'s first all-around gold medal
since Mary Lou Retton in 1984.
"The depth on this team is much better than we've had," says
national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, who picked the squad
that won last year's world title. Kupets [coo-PETS], the 2002
uneven bars world champ, missed that team win when she ruptured
her left Achilles on the eve of the finals. After surgery she
started a swift recovery aided by a physical therapist, a
psychologist, a chiropractor and an acupuncturist. While Kupets
healed, she stretched, swam, rode a stationary bike and honed
details of form, such as her toe point. "She couldn't have
tolerated being out of the gym," says her coach, Kelli Hill. "We
had to hold her back from doing too much."
Known for her high-wattage routines and bright smile, Kupets has
come back better than ever. In May she won the all-around at an
international meet in Texas, and in June she defended her
national all-around title, tying with Patterson. Until the
trials, Patterson--runner-up in the all-around at the 2003 worlds
despite a fractured left elbow--had received more attention than
Kupets and had been anointed as the U.S. superstar-to-be.
(Karolyi's husband, the famous ex-coach Bela, has called her one
of the three most talented American gymnasts he's ever seen.) At
the trials, the normally poised Patterson fell off the beam
twice, but she's not worried. "I know the mistakes I made, and
I'm fixing them," she says.
With Kupets, Patterson and McCool, who finished just .125 behind
Kupets at the trials, this squad could become the best U.S. team
ever. And become the talk of the schoolyard. --Kelli Anderson
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER Courtney Kupets (below) and Carly Patterson (right) are just twoof the potential all-around champions on a squad that looksgolden.