NASHVILLE – Courtney Kupets continued her remarkable comeback from a torn left Achilles by winning the balance beam event and taking the early lead at the midpoint of the Sr. All-Around competition at the 2004 Visa U.S. Gymnastics Championships at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville.

Kupets scored a 9.725 for the beam gold, but more remarkable was her performance in the all-around, where she scored a 38.225 in her first major competition since the World Championships and her first head-to-head competition with Carly Patterson since the 2003 Visa American Cup. Patterson scored a 38.150 in the all-around, and won gold on the floor exercise with a 9.700.

“Tonight I just wanted to compete and be consistent,” Kupets said. “I had a long struggle with my Achilles and am glad it is better. I thought I could be in this position, but you never know. Everyone was a little nervous.”

Kupets, the 2003 National Champion, tore the Achilles on Aug. 18, 2003 at the World Championships after qualifying for the all-around and uneven bars final. She was forced to withdraw from Worlds and has been aiming to return to full strength in order to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team.

The night of amazing comebacks continued with Annia Hatch, who landed a double-twisting Yurcehnko vault for a 9.625 and the gold. Hatch was competing in her first major event since tearing her ACL on Aug. 16 at the World Championships. The 25-year-old Hatch narrowly edged fellow 25-year-old and comeback kid Mohini Bhardwaj at 9.525.

Two-time national champion Tasha Schwikert – a question mark all week with a sore right Achilles – proved she can perform under pressure by winning her first uneven bars title since the 2002 championships with a 9.650. Schwikert also stands third in the all-around prelims despite not having competed since leading the U.S. women to their first-ever team gold medal at Worlds.

Thursday’s all-around preliminary score will be combined with Saturday’s all-around final score to determine the all-around champions. Additionally, the top 14 all-around athletes will be named to the Senior National Team, and the top 12 invited to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Competition continues Friday with Sr. Men’s All-Around Finals at 7 p.m., followed by the announcement of the Men’s Junior National Team.

Jr. Women:
Nastia Liukin captured three event titles to lead the junior women’s all-around competition.
Liukin, who scored a 37.875, leads second place Shayla Worley by more than a point. Liukin won golds on uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise in a repeat of her three event titles from a year ago. The Junior Women’s All-Around continues at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Mary Sanders captured her third consecutive Senior Rhythmic All-Around title with a final score of 97.650. Sanders, 18, of Toronto, Canada, earned the highest score in all four events to top second-place finisher Olga Karmansky at 86.150. Rhythmic competition concludes with Sr. Event Finals at 2:45 p.m. Saturday.