There were no judges, and there was no pressure. Best of all, there was no Olympic-sized controversy at MCI Center last night as the stars of the U.S. gymnastics team tumbled, twirled and gyrated to the shrieks and squeals of an adoring pre-teen audience.
The T.J. Maxx Tour of Gymnastics Champions was billed as a celebration of the American gymnasts' triumph at the 2004 Athens Games. And the only score possible was a perfect "10" because that's what was printed on the pieces of paper handed out to the roughly 7,000 who came to cheer all-around gold medalist Carly Patterson; Courtney Kupets of Gaithersburg; and their medal-winning teammates from Greece.
Fans weren't exactly treated to the routines that won nine medals in Athens. The performances they saw were at once scaled down and jazzed up. Instead of Patterson's silver-medal balance-beam routine, for example, the show featured all five members of the U.S. women's team -- Patterson, Kupets, Terin Humphrey, Mohini Bhardwaj and Annia Hatch -- performing on four balance beams at once.
Not to be outdone, four members of the silver-medal winning men's team performed synchronized routines on four sets of still rings -- while the rings were hoisted high in the air, no less.
In between show-stoppers by the medal-winners were gasp-inducing performances by world champion sports acrobats Shenea Booth and Arthur Davis; rhythmic gymnast Mary Sanders, who displayed what's possible with a ribbon, hoop and ball; and trampoline ace Jennifer Parilla.
The MCI floor was littered with gymnastics equipment: dueling sets of uneven bars and parallel bars; a giant trampoline; the four balance beams; and an over-sized mat in the center for tumbling spectacles that involved the full cast. Set to an up-tempo soundtrack that mixed hip-hop, pop, flamenco and funk, it was equal parts circus, rock concert and gymnastics show. And the blaring soundtrack was nothing compared to the shrieks at the autograph session at night's end.
Last night's show was the eighth in a 40-city post-Olympic tour. The gymnasts travel from city to city on a plush tour bus outfitted with bunk beds, couch and TV room. For Patterson, 16, the undisputed star, the show is part of the reward of becoming only the second American woman to win the all-around gold medal.
"It's been fun so far," Patterson said. "It's easier to kind of let loose. You don't have to focus like it's a competition. You just have more fun."
She has barely had a break since flying home from Athens in late August. Jay Leno wanted to talk to her. So did Katie Couric and David Letterman. But the best was appearing as a presenter along with Jo-Jo at the Video Music Awards. During the tour, which runs through Nov. 28, she'll only take one high-school class: Economics. She was supposed to start this week, but she packed the wrong textbook.
Before last night's show, selected fans were admitted to the MCI Center early for a question-and-answer session with some of the gymnasts. Most were aspiring gymnastics from local clubs and looked like miniature copies of their Olympic idols, with their hair pulled back in ponytails or anchored by purple and pink barrettes. Most brought cameras; some carried autograph books and pens; a few cradled stuffed animals.
While Washington's adult population may have been consumed on this night by the first presidential debate, its youngsters wanted to know the full truth from their Olympic heroes. And they could barely sit in their seats when it came time to ask questions.
"What's your favorite event?"
"What's your worst injury?"
"What do you do if you get nervous?"
"When you grow up, would you like your kids to be in the Olympics?"
Steve McClain, an alternate on the 2004 Athens squad, fielded that one. "It's hard sometimes," he conceded. "And it's scary. And you get hurt. But I think I've had a very cool life. Why wouldn't I want my kids to have the same experience?"