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August 18, 2005
Reuters Interviews Carly
LONDON (Reuters) - For eight years, Carly Patterson used to run home from gym practice with only one thing in mind -- to watch a recording of "The Magnificent Seven".

After spending hours honing her gravity defying acrobatic skills, Patterson's daily ritual included scrutinising a tape of the 1996 Atlanta Games gymnastics competition, when seven teenagers gave the U.S. their first Olympic women's team title.

Just when it seemed Patterson would wear that tape out, she replaced it with one in which she herself was the star turn on an Athenian stage.

"My favourite gymnast (from 1996) is probably Dominique Dawes so I would go home and watch the tape every day after gym practice," Olympic all-round champion Patterson told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"I've (since) watched my performance randomly and feel 'wow I can't believe that really happened'.

"The gold medal is my most prized possession. Hopefully someday I can put it in a shadow box but at the moment I keep it in a safe."

Before the Athens Games, Patterson barely had time to do things outside of gymnastics.

It took the bubbly teenager from Baton Rouge, Louisiana only 90 seconds to change that.

Since nailing her final tumbling combination on the floor to secure gold, Patterson has been caught up in whirlwind life saturated with celebrities, award shows, autograph signings and airports.

She has appeared everywhere from the Wheaties box cover -- a goal of all American women gymnasts -- to a fashion show in New York.

FAN CLUB

"I knew I was probably going to be a little busy but I didn't know it was gonna be so much," said the 17-year-old, who has endorsement deals with McDonalds and Visa.

"I was kind of expecting probably half of all that has happened to be me. It's all been really fun and a great experience and I'm just glad to keep going.

"Going to the VMAs (Video Music Awards) was so much fun because there's all the stars and celebrities.

"I love going to camps and talk to different kids and it's fun to see their reaction when I get there.

"It's really cool that little kids look up to me. It's fun all this attention, I like it."

Although Patterson's fan club may have grown beyond her wildest dreams, she also discovered that not everyone was scrambling to join in.

During a 40-city gymnastics tour last year, she found herself being alienated by the rest of her Olympic team mates.

"I don't want to say anything bad about someone but it was a little bit hard," admitted Patterson, who became the first American woman in 20 years to win the all-round gold.

"On tour, I had a routine at the end of it and maybe they were mad that they didn't get to do an individual routine at every show and (there was) a little bit of jealousy but I guess you're going to have that, right?

"It upset me a little bit because before we were all cool and fine.

"But I just dealt with it and it all worked out."

RECORD DEAL

Patterson has been prevented from spending much time in a gym since last August with a persistent back injury.

While she remains unsure if she will defend her title in Beijing in 2008, she is busy carving a career in entertainment.

She recently filmed a guest appearance in the Disney film "Stick It" and has also been busy trying to secure a record deal.

"I'm working with producers right now as I haven't finished my demos yet. Hopefully we can have something out before the end of the year," said Patterson.

"I always wanted to be a singer. I just never really had time before as I put all my focus into gymnastics.

"Singing is definitely less stressful and straining on your body. At least I'm used to performing in front of a lot of people so that won't be a new to me which is a good thing.

"I haven't actually (sung in front of crowd) but it'll be so much fun. I'd rather perform in front of 10,000 people than 10 people."

Despite becoming a permanent fixture on the celebrity circuit, Patterson has kept up with her education as she is aware that her stint in the limelight is unlikely to last forever.

"I never know what my schedule is these days or even what I'm doing next. I'm always busy (but) I've just started my senior year of high school," she said.

"I (eventually) want to study dentistry. I like getting my teeth cleaned."

Until she is ready to polish other peoples' teeth, however, she can enjoy reminiscing about her exploits on August 19, 2004.

"Athens was a great experience and I'll always be able to look back on it and say I achieved my ultimate goal in gymnastics," said Patterson, who will celebrate the first anniversary of her triumph with an appearance at a charity golf tournament in Arkansas.

"I'll always remember, it was the best day of my life."



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