CHAPTER – Gold Rush

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USATODAY: America's Golden Girl - Tanner Wins Gymnastics All-Around. Lauren Tanner has tumbled into history, becoming the first American Gymnast to win both a team gold, and the crown jewels of women's gymnastics, the All-Around title. In a shocking conclusion, Tanner edged out Russian Ivanka Kirralina, through tie-breaking rules, after reigning world Champion Genji Cho fell from the balance beam. The gymnast, as famous for her antics off the mat as on…

Perez Hilton – Vomit - Lauren Tanner thanks father, boyfriend, friends, coach and gym in leaked victory party video

NBC Gold Medal Profile: Lauren Tanner

She's become a global sensation; the first American to win both a team and all-around gold. A teenage girl with golden braided hair and the ability to capture a world's attention on the balance beam, last night she reached a new peak, becoming the first American to win team and individual gold. The road to that moment was long and hard. We talk to some experts on this extraordinary gymnast

Tim Dagget (Along with montage): Lauren Tanner has been a force in the gymnastics world for a long time. Go back through the past nationals, junior nationals. She's been there but in the last year she's grown into a champion. Not only has she become the best in the world, she has permanently changed the nature of gymnastics.

Steve Tanner, father, of Lauren, told us what it took to raise a Champion.

Steve Tanner: Lauren's always been strong-willed. Always. And she was always determined to go to the Olympics. When she was little, she did a lot of things, wanted to be a lot of things. A Princess, a horse-rider, a lawyer. I tried to encourage that one. But the one thing that never changed was that she wanted to win a gold medal.

And you put her in gymnastics class?

Steve Tanner: I came home from work one day and her nanny was near hysterical because she had climbed up on top of this huge brick fence and was just playing up there. She had no idea of the danger. And she kept climbing up there and running up and down. And I thought, I need to get her somewhere with safety mats. Once she discovered the balance beam, she never looked back.

The journey from a carefree young girl to an Olympian wasn't easy, and while the stresses of gymnastics took their toll, it was personal crisis's that really affected the gymnast. Lauren's mother suffered through an unrelenting addiction to drugs that saw her disappearing in and out of the gymnast's life and leaving Lauren devastated and damaged.

Steve Tanner: Lauren never liked to show weakness. She never wanted to show how much pain she was in, but I could tell. She was always hoping Leslie would come home. We both were of course, but each time her mother let her down, you could see it on her face. How hurt she was. That's the hardest thing I've ever gone through with Lauren, watching her realise she'll never has a mother the way her friends do.

An only child, Lauren found a second family at her gymnastics club. Joined by fellow Olympians Payson Keeler and Kaylie Cruz, Lauren rose to the Elite level at the Rocky Mountain gymnastics club.

Steve Tanner: Lauren really enjoyed it and I thought, what's the harm? She's having fun, being active, learning discipline and commitment. But did I think she'd ever end up at the Olympics? No. Then her coach approached me and said she had real, professional, potential and I didn't know how to respond to that. She was eight. But she loved it and her coach thought she should be training at an Elite facility. The closest one was in Denver and as a single parent, that was just too far away. There was another family, in the same boat as us, the Cruz's, and we got together, found other interested families, and invested in the Rock. Part of me always expected she'd get bored and give up. I mean, what parent thinks that the six year-old announcing they're going to be an Olympian is actually going to be right?

Despite a father willing to support her dreams, things haven't always been easy for Lauren. The haunting figure of her mother shadowed much of her earlier career. Her mother's relapse, before the 2010 national titles shook her confidence, and was then followed by her team mate Payson Keeler's shocking spinal injury. While Payson returned to the gym, Lauren's story shook a tragic turn. Her mother's addiction spiralled and resulted in a tragic fatal overdose.

Steve Tanner: When Lauren goes quiet, that's when I worry. She can talk all day most of the time, she's got a smart aleck response to just about anything, but after her mother died, she barely spoke, at least not to me or her teammates. Luckily, and if you'd asked me this at the time I would've disagreed, but Austin Tucker showed up in our lives around then, and he got Lauren to talk. He really stepped up and took care of my little girl. He inspired her to keep going, keep fighting, and make it to the Olympics.

A close friendship with Tucker would be crucial for her rise to the top.

Steve Tanner: Once Lauren met Austin, they bonded. He pushed her to believe she could do, what seemed like the impossible. He was a living, breathing, representation of what she wanted. What she could be, and she latched onto that.

In the months following Austin Tucker's arrival at the Rock, Lauren Tanner had a stratospheric rise through the gymnastics rankings. Always known as a talented and reliable beamer, she mastered new skills at rapid rate, giving her a difficulty level on beam unmatched in the world. Olympic Gold Medallist Tim Daggat explains:

Tim Daggat: What Lauren Tanner does on beam, no one else does. To be a gymnastics champion you add together both difficulty and execution. Lauren Tanner performs skills so difficult it's like giving her a head-start. When she debuted those skills for the 2011 World Championships, the world sat up and took notice. She permanently altered the playing field. And she wasn't just performing more difficult versions of already existing skills, she brought new skills to the table, and a style of gymnastics we hadn't seen before, an aggressive style of gymnastics that suited her body type and was strictly personalised for her. Since then, every gymnast in the world has been trying to catch up. That's why they call her the Queen of the Beam.

Lauren Tanner has become as well known for her exploits off the mat as well as on them. Her disagreements with former head coach Dmitri Belov culminated in his firing following his verbal degradation of her, which was caught on tape. Other highlights have included physical altercations with teammate Kelly Parker, an underwear advertising campaign for Calvin Klein and a refusal, in Tanner's words "to pretend to be an eleven-year old girl."

Her personal coach, Sasha Belov, stated that Lauren's determination has both gotten in her way, and got her to where she is today but that it is the coach's job to direct a gymnast's personality, not stifle it.

Some say she's a different breed of gymnast; opinionated, outspoken and committed to competing the most difficult skills in the word. Others say she's merely a more honest gymnast, willing to reveal the side of gymnasts hidden so long behind glitter and leotards.

But with two gold medals won already, Lauren Tanner is certainly a gymnast for the history books, and one that will not be soon forgotten.

- chapter break -

Lauren Tanner on the Today Show

Lauren Tanner and Austin Tucker chat to Ryan Seacrest

ABC News: London 2012: Lauren Tanner wins Gold Medal in Individual Gymnastics final

Interview with America's Golden Girl: Lauren Tanner on life, love and her second gold medal.

How the Champions Celebrate? See the photos and video from the Lauren Tanner victory party.

It's reigning gold for the Queen of the Beam.

An insight into the Gymnastics Golden Girl: Lauren Tanner.

Queen Lauren talks living the Olympic dream

What's Next? Tanner says "More Gold."

American Lauren Tanner takes second Olympic Gold.

Queen of the Beam wears top Gymnastics Crown.

Fashion Red Carpet Analyses: That Olympic Look.

- chapter break -

The women's individual all-around took place on a Thursday. Friday and Saturday were jam-packed with media.

MJ filled Lauren's Friday with as much as she could schedule. There had been a pile more "team" events are well. Where previously the NGO had sent them out as either pairs or trios, which hid the absence of Kaylie, this was suddenly thrown full spotlight. Lauren's all around win drew a huge among of focus and the questions kept coming from all kinds of sources. Lauren tried to keep on top of them all, but repeating many of the same answers was exhausting.

She wished, briefly, that M.J. was a little less scrupulous about screening questions, so one could be a surprise.

With the agent's encouragement she'd gone on a twitter binge as well, lapping up every opportunity and determined to savour every moment.

Austin had gotten his commitments out of the way on the Thursday, so they would run in the pre-women's event coverage. He was also hampered by his legs, meaning he joined Lauren only for the big-ticket interviews. The rest of the time he was behind closed doors, and after taking the Thursday completely off, had only very light training on the Friday to compliment his medical treatment.

At some point Austin's injuries had transitioned from "let's keep this under wraps to minimise panic and speculation" status to it being more of a mental game for Austin. He wasn't acknowledging the injury because then he'd have to acknowledge the injury.

The days off, at least, seemed to have made a difference.

On Saturday, though, all the gymnasts in both teams showed up for practice.

Austin and Beth had several events, with Austin qualifying for four events and the tiny dynamo for three.

Lauren had just beam, Payson had floor and Kelly, bars. Nicky and Jon each had two events to train for while Max trained pommel. The horse specialist looked a little nervous at the start of practice and mangled a move, causing everyone to startle and stare.

He jumped back on, repeated the skill and repeated the mistake. From the floor he shook his head, baffled.

Mac checked in on him and while Max didn't seem to be particularly persuaded by whatever the head coach was saying, he managed to complete his sets without major errors.

Then he chalked up, shook his arms out and began a pommel conditioning drill.

Sasha had to interrupt. "Spencer. What the hell are you doing? You have an even final tomorrow."

"Right." Max blinked, sliding off the side.

"Save your arms! What is going on with you?"

"Right. Sorry?" Max questioningly apologised.

"Just stop." Sasha insisted "where is your head at?"

Max shrugged "I just stopped thinking for a second there; won't happen again."

"Well" Sasha answered disbelievingly. "Do me a favor, get cleared by the trainers, get a good night's sleep and stay in your own room tonight. Save your energy for tomorrow. If you don't 'stop thinking' you've got a real medal shot."

Max gave him a sloppy salute with a grin. Sasha shook his head with fondness. That boy.

While Sasha was occupied, Lauren was on the other side of the gym having a brief crisis.

Following a light warm up, Lauren had realised with startling clarity what she would be training. "I'm never training uneven bars again." She stated "or floor, or vault."

"Is that a bad thing?" Janet questioned. "I thought you'd be happy."

"I am." Lauren nodded resolutely. "It's just weird. All beam, all the time."

Lauren was eager to get back on the beam. With a few days before her event final, she could afford to go hard and have time to recover, so Sasha drilled her relentlessly. After five in a row without major flaws, Sasha let motioned for her to come off the apparatus and gave her a shopping list of areas to shore up.

His biggest criticism was her extensions and getting g her legs into the horizontal in her yang bo jump. Flexibility was always the first to disappear. She got onto the mats to restore it as quickly as she could. Wedging herself on the edge of a mat to force her legs to more than a hundred and eighty degree split, she glanced around while her muscles strained.

Payson smiled from where she was warming up on the other side of the floor In between them, Sasha had gotten working with Carter. She pressed her head to her knee but kept her eyes on the floor.

Carter was determined but still not quite 100%. With every skill there was a comment to be made and she saw a jitteriness she'd come to recognise. He'd calmed and focused in competition so far and she just hoped when the time came, he'd settle-in on the competition floor.

Austin, on the other hand, was nothing but focus. You could see it radiating out from him as his frustration over his restrictions hampered him even as he performed flawlessly on rings. When he finished though, instead of dismounting he was lowered to the floor by Mac and an assistant.

"Tanner?" Kelly's voice drew her attention.

She hesitated and then sat beside Lauren.


"Cruz. Have you heard anything?" Kelly repeated.

Lauren shook her head. "Just that nobody's seen her. MJ said she'd handle it. Why? What have you heard?"

"My Mom saying she's booked, like, a whole bunch of media in the US, for this week."

Lauren frowned. "I'll ask M.J."

Kelly hesitated. She looked like she was about to say something but instead just nodded tightly and headed to the waiting physio for a quick check.

After practice they all headed for the team meeting. After two days of rain the sky was clear and blue and she had to take off her sunglasses heading into the conference area.

Austin arrived last, and they all blanched. On his left leg was a black boot that all gymnasts recognised and hated. He nonchalantly took a seat immediately beside Carter and Max who were closest to the door.

Noticing Austin's arrival, Marcus cleared his throat and got started. Lauren had to wait for an explanation.

The second there was a break she darted over and squeezed in between the boys.

Carter tugged her into his lap and she wrapped her arms around the ones he'd wrapped around her waist as Coach Macintyre started talking.

Even as M.J. relaxed just a smidgen, the list of commitments the NGO had planned loomed dauntingly. There was another event that night, and then media and training again in the morning. Then Beth mentioned wanting to see some of London and suddenly a bus tour was on the agenda for their afternoon off.

"I thought we had plans." Austin interrupted.

"We do?" Lauren questioned before catching on. "Yes. We do."

"Sure." Carter shrugged when they both pointedly looked at him.

When they emerged from the meeting, the team dispersed. Some, like Beth and Payson, headed off to meet their families to see London. Others, like Kelly and Nicky, headed back more physio.

Russo almost tripped over after not holding the door open for her and then hurriedly changing his mind.

Lauren rounded on Austin as they headed out.

"What happened?"

"Nothing. Everyone just got paranoid over the latest scans. Really. I felt great today. A few days off was exactly what I needed. Now, what are we doing? I know it's an early night, but I need to see something other than the village. Can we go somewhere?"

"Sure." Lauren nodded

"But nothing involving you performing any physical activity" Carter reminded him.

Austin shrugged ruefully "It might give you a better shot tomorrow if we did."

"We could watch a movie?" Lauren suggested. She sounded very dissatisfied at the possibility.

"We're in London, at the Olympics." Austin encouraged "we can't just, go to a movie. Unless it's with the Jamaican athletics team or something."

"Why don't we go to the Games?" Carter suggested, causing an odd look "we're at the Olympics. We could watch some sport. The stadium is right here and there's a bus to drop us at the door."

"I'll check with Sasha." Lauren volunteered.

- chapter break -

Athletes About Town: Recent Olympic All-Around Champions spotted at the Athletics. Austin Tucker and Lauren Tanner enjoyed an afternoon off with teammate Carter Anderson, but while Tanner and Anderson seemed in high spirits, standing and cheering, Austin Tucker was spotted wearing a heavy boot, fuelling injury rumours. He and Anderson are expected to compete in event finals beginning today. However rumours of an injury to Austin Tucker have arisen, after he was visibly helped off the podium following his successful defence of the All-Around title. In follow up interviews he insisted that it was wear and tear from an intense Olympic campaign. Lauren Tanner will contest the balance beam final on Tuesday.

- chapter break -

Austin felt good when he woke up the first morning of event finals. He'd had a good night's sleep and the bruise that was becoming visible on his calf-skin by the end of the all-around had faded dramatically. He was walking with only some pain, and was determined to ignore any suggestions of pulling out of any of the event finals.

He still spent most of the morning with medical. Jack was there with regularity (and Lauren didn't want to know how the US team had wrangled that. She just knew Jack was the only one who Austin listened too when they talked about the severity of his injuries). However, he wasn't there all the time. Jack, perhaps, knew theoretically how bad the injury was, but Austin didn't want him to see it in practice.

He'd be starting with the worst, floor, and Austin was up first.

Lauren again sat with Jack, and this time they were joined by Max's family and a host of NGO officials, sponsors and the like.

Max would compete on pommel after the boys had competed floor and Beth had competed vault. The US had four potential medals on the line.

With two athletes in the final having the same coach, Mac was on the floor as well. Rather than split up, the four stuck together. By luck of the draw Austin would be up first, Carter was competing second last. The crowd roared when Austin saluted. The boys separated and settled down, Carter taking a seat while Austin prepared.

He and Sasha spoke a last few words before he stepped onto the floor.

And this here is the man to beat. More than that, people want to know if he can be beaten. He's the reigning Olympic and World floor champion and … and an incredible start. Full-twisting double straight into punch front and quarter. Wow. And he's playing it safe. There could be a punch front there. And into these powerful whips and then a two and a half, then a one and a half with a sommie in-between. That… a slight mistake but a nice recovery. That was four big tumbles. Keep in mind he carries a lot of upper body muscle compared to his competitors. Just a little lopsided but no major problems. Now his strength work and he excels at this. Before the roll out. A difficult skill. Just a few minor flaws here and there but he is such an exciting tumbler. Just the big end… Yes. A near flawless double-twisiting double tuck. Wow. Well that's the standard. Now we just wait to see if anyone can catch that, and I don't think too many have a chance.

Austin came off the floor and didn't even attempt to hide his hobbled pace or the instant icepacks Sasha tossed at him.

Carter and he exchanged words and a hug, before settling in to wait. The pair were both rubbing their legs, Austin with icepacks and Carter to stay warm.

Mac immediately crouched down, following the trainer's treatment instructions while Austin listened to the crowd's responses to Zou Kai.

He'd come close, following Austin by the small margin of .2

The rest of the field followed. Each tried to break into the 16s to challenge Austin's 16.1 but one by one, no one made it.

They it was Carter's turn.

He started out with a wobble and an off landing that hand Lauren wincing. Carter didn't have room for errors.

And and that was a nice recovery. He's so tall. He needs to generate that extra bit of power, but he is a fantastic twister. Now watch this… just beautiful height and grace. The height he needs for these skills is essential and he's got it. Very light across the floor… and that's a great two and a half twisting front layout, and a great punch front as well. And his strength move. Gymnasts must perform a non-acrobatic skill and down out of that. This is a big skill here… and into the roll out. A very dangerous skill, he makes look so graceful…"

Lauren leant forward

Just the final pass, and what a conclusion! That was a tremendous routine by Carter Anderson for USA. Will it be enough to topple roommate Austin Tucker though?

Down on the floor the two men hugged fondly while Carter nervously waited.

The results came up and he had a wry grin followed by a big smile that had Lauren smiling back.

The younger gymnast was thrilled.

Austin Tucker 16.100

Carter Anderson: 16.033

Zou Kai: 15.933

They still had one competition left but Carter had an individual medal and was clearly delighted and celebrating.

The crowd watched anxiously but Tomas Gonzlalez didn't come close. Lauren breathed out a huge, unnecessary, sigh of relief.

She cheered loudly during the medal ceremony, standing up and pressing against the barrier.

This time it was her time to bolt downstairs and greet Carter.

"You were amazing." She told him "phenomenal, beautiful, spectacular."

He kissed her fiercely and she wrapped her legs around him as he lifted her clear off the ground. It had become their thing.

They were caught up in their own world until Marcus pointedly cleared his throat.

"Hi." Carter reluctantly turned away, throwing an arm over Lauren's shoulders casually.

"Carter. Congratulations."

"Thank you. I guess it's time to move?"

"From here, yes. They're doing press after all three events." Marcus explained. "We have an area where you can wait."

"Can we watch?" Carter questioned. "Max is on pommel, and Beth Atchinson's going to be vaulting any second."

'I'm totally a horrible teammate if I don't go and watch" Lauren pointed out.

"Okay. Andrew!" He summoned one of the lackeys with an official pass. "Please escort Ms Tanner and Mr Anderson to the athletes area where there teammates are. Mr Anderson needs to be back down well before press begins."

"Of course."

As they passed, Lauren caught sight of Austin, sitting on a bench and surrounded by people.

"One sec." She insisted, before heading over and hugging him tightly. "You were brilliant." She told him.

"Thanks Lo." He told her but his voice was clipped.

"We're going up to watch Vault and Pommel. Do you want to come?"

"No, medical's got their claws in me." He commented. "I might make it for Max but give Beth a cheer for me will you?"

She nodded, slightly unnerved.

Instead she and Carter hurried upstairs and quickly found the section.

Lauren blanched when she saw who was sitting next to Payson Keeler.

"Oh my god." She muttered.

Behind her, Marcus' lackey commented "is that?"

"Carter!" Payson jumped up, excited "congratulations!"

They all stood up to greet him and see the medal.

"Congratulations." The Duchess better known as Princess Kate Middleton kissed both his cheeks "you were exceptional."

"Thank you… ma'am ?"

She smiled magnanimously before repeating the treatment with Lauren. Then they all settled down, Carter and Lauren on the end where the vacant seats were. They periodically glanced down at Kate Middleton.

"What's happened so far?" Carter checked with Russo.

"Nothing that unexpected." He told them. "Pena didn't pull it off."

"No surprises." Kelly, on Russo's other side scoffed before giving them a brief rundown. "Rogers was alright. Pena sat it down. Chusikova was fine, which, you know, is exceptional. I wouldn't mind if she won gold."

They paused to watch Maria Paseka and then winced when she crunched off the vaulting table, barely made it around and stepped off the mat. Even so, she had the golden Amanar, which meant her 15.4 would keep her in contention. Her second vault was much better, giving her the first post 15 average so far.

But it was the last four vaulters that were the threats. All of them had at least one vault with a start value over 16. Beth, Genji and Sui Wei all had two and Genji was up first.

Collectively, the arena leant forward.

She headed towards at the podium, blocked and then her legs disappeared out from under her. She barely landed feet first and immediately fell back.

She looked so surprised it was almost comical. Lauren exchanged looks with Kelly while the injured gymnast's grip on Nicky's hand almost broke it. He still had events left so he pried it free and she looked abashed. "Sorry." She muttered.

The score came up and everyone was baffled. Genji Cho looked even more surprised. Even with the fall the score came up as 14.3. She needed a huge scoring second vault to make the medal table.

They all watched, hearts in their mouths.

She hit the vaulting table and everyone drew in a breath in horror. The second vault was worse; much worse. This time it would be a question as to whether her feet even hit the ground first. The score came up 0.00. Evidently the judges thought it hadn't been her feet.

"Oh my god." Lauren muttered. Down on the floor the coaches made for the judges table. Notification of an appeal came up and they all waited.

Poor Beth bounced up and down, trying to stay warm. She was psyched up and ready to go but had to wait.

"Let's go, Beth!" Kelly bellowed. She was on the edge of her seat.

It came up. Appeal accepted. Genji would get a score.

Then they had to wait to see what score. 13.2. Ouch. Lauren thought. That was a ringing endorsement of "why did you bother appealing?"

"Come on Beth." They all yelled. "You've got this."

She was shorter than most of her competitors but much more solid. She was pure muscle and it showed when she launched into the air. Her young knees absorbed the impact and shifted quickly to stable the landing.

Her team stood up to cheer. "Nice work Atchinson!" Kelly insisted.

They all stood and cheered while Beth prepped for her second vault. 15.95 came up as her first score.

Now she just had to repeat the brilliance.

She came quite close, but over shot, having to take a big step. The 15.49 would still rocket her into first though, and guarantee her a medal.

Which medal depended on Sandra Izbaza and Sui Wei.

Sandra Izbasa stepped up and popped into a great vault with great ease. They all cheered. The Romanians were the new underdogs. You had to cheer for them. 15.38 came up. It was good. But, for Beth, it was beatable. Her yurchenko double twist was fantastic as well, with an execution of 9.2, but this was a numbers came and Beth's difficulty was that much higher.

Sandra slotted into second place with a total of 15.19

That just left Sui Wei.

She was phenomenal as well; potentially just as good as Genji Cho if not better. She was almost as small as Beth but much slighter. That was why, when she hit her block, despite her perfect form, she didn't get quite the power Beth did. It did earn her a 15.905 though, which had the arena on the edge of their seats.

Sui Wei should have had the same problem with the second vault - her Round-off flic-flac with ½ turn on – stretched salto forward with 1½ turn off. Lauren chuckled at the thought of what the announcer would do with that.

Her vault was the Cheng, named for the Chinese gymnast that Sui Wei would've had to fight for her Olympic spot, had she not torn an Achilles. Sui Wei was almost as good as the original and that was pretty fantastic.

The arena waited, and waited. And then finally the scores came up.

Gold: Sui Wei CHI (15.89)

Silver: Beth Atchinson USA (15.72)

Bronze: Sandra Izbasa ROM (15.19)

While they waited for the girls to come out to receive there medal, Lauren curled into Carter and grinned up at him. He fingered his silver medal, still unable too, and not wanting too, stop smiling.

They were disrupted by M.J. hurrying down to meet them.

"Ah, Carter, brilliant. Are you ready for press?"

He nodded.

"Good, well, your brother called. I presume he got my number from you, he was very excited."

"Luke?" Carter checked "not Jake."

"He sounded very young and very excitable."

"My phone's in my bag underneath."

"Here." Lauren dug hers out "take mine. And, look, 23 missed calls. More than a few from Wyoming."


He ducked out of the arena as the gymnasts started to return for their medals.

"Oh, and Lauren darling, your schedule is coming along brilliantly. All the morning shows again when you get back, and all the late nights. Plus, Oprah is interested."

"Oprah?" Lauren gaped.

"And that's just the beginning." M.J. told her with a wink "I'll email you proposals but don't worry your pretty head about it."

"I want too." Lauren insisted "it's interesting, and my career, right? Did you talk to Rimmel yet? About the contract?"

"I did." M.J. laughed "and it's good news. I'll email that too, just, what does Sasha say? Focus? You still have one competition left, and there are a thousand cameras in here, so, you know, look supportive of your teammates."

"It's good news?" Lauren checked, delightedly.

"Yes. Now I have to go and manage that scoundrel of a best friend of yours, alright? And pray he's in good enough condition at the end of all this to keep managing."

"Why?" Lauren's eyes widened in alarm. "Is he any worse?"

M.J.'s blackberry buzzed "Speak of the devil. That's Chrysler." She told the blonde "Look, if you're that interested, I'm meeting with your father tomorrow. Why don't you come along, but right now, I have to dash."

She brushed a kiss to Lauren's cheek. "Oh, and the lipstick with the braids have become an excellent trademark. Keep it up."

When Carter returned he was still grinning from ear to ear and still clutching his medal. He pressed a very different kiss to Lauren's cheek.

"How's Luke?"

"Great. It was actually Jake that called M.J. They all sound, really happy."

"Of course they are." Lauren told him confidently "they love you and you just one an individual medal at the Olympics." She squeezed an arm around his back. "I'm so happy for you. I've said that already, haven't I?"

"Yeah." He smiled "you have."

"Good, because I am. And I love you."

He pressed a quick kiss to her lips, "And I love you."

As the vault medallists filed out, Carter leant into Lauren "Austin hasn't shown up?"

"I'm sure he's just got Jack fussing over him" Lauren insisted, but she was wondering as well. Max was up first in pommel and it was not like Austin to miss him watching a teammate compete. She changed the subject.

"So we can go out tonight." She offered "We should be celebrating."

"I'm happy to stay in, at the village. We can celebrate there." Carter insisted.

"Really? You've got an Olympic medal. You deserve a parade."

"Apparently there's going to be one back in Boulder. We can stay in."

"You're really happy with that?"

"I have a silver medal at the Olympic Games. I've so happy. I think I'm going to be happy the rest of my life."

They were distracted by the gymnasts coming out.

Max's pommel was great. Typical Max. Huge difficulty made to look incredibly easy. But unlike his last few years of domestic competition, he had a whole field of competitors at his level. For once, his difficulty wouldn't be the highest in the arena. Louis Smith also had a 7.0 compared to his 6.9.

"How does he do that?" Carter gaped.

He posted a terrific score of 16.066 with an execution score of 9.166 and then settled down to watch.

- chapter break -

"I'm so confused." Lauren insisted. Nicky, beside her, frowned.

"It goes to execution."

"Yes. I think of all gymnasts here, I know how the tie breaks work, but, Max and Berki have the same execution. Do they tie?"

They all stared but the results remained static.

Gold: Kristen Berki (HUN) 16.066

Silver: Max Spencer (USA) 16.066

Bronze: Louis Smith (GB) 16.066

"I think we just became the most hated gymnastics team in England." Carter stated.

Lauren giggled "And at least maybe the Duchess might be regretting her seating arrangements."

The Duchess, on the other end, was having the situation explained to her by Payson.

It warranted explaining.

- chapter break -

The other gymnasts headed home together, while one of either Marcus's or M.J.'s minions came to collect Carter.

"No I'd love to watch your press." Lauren insisted, tagging along.

Carter was hurried in quite quickly, which was odd, and Lauren was directed to one of the side rooms to wait. She lingered behind some of the promotional signage that had been put up. She wanted to watch, not draw attention to herself

Austin was already seated, and grinned at Carter. They were quickly joined by the other medallists of the day and Lauren briefly revealed herself to wave at Beth who waved back excitedly.

With a lot of British press, the first questions went to Louis Smith and it was awkward. He wanted the gold he felt he was entitled too and Lauren could understand why. Luckily Max, slouched casually, escaped most of the condemnation and when questioned responded vaguely about being happy and then, less diplomatically, responded that he was a glass half full kind of guy, how weird the rules were. She heard the US press official behind her draw in a breath of disapproving air.

Of all of them, Max had flown under the radar the most and so the press were scrambling to put together story packs. Luckily or Unluckily, once again he'd likely be overshadowed by other stories. Louis Smith missing out on gold, Austin and Carter going one-two and Genji Cho falling to pieces on one night would largely dominate the news coverage.

Luckily, Max was more than happy with that.

After the UK press had taken their fill from the pommel horse saga, the international press latched onto Austin. How did it feel to defend his floor title? How did it feel to win his second gold?

"Austin, there have been rumours circulating that you're injured. You were noticeably limping onto the podium. Is that the case and is it serious?"

"Ah, yes and no. I have been having a bit of a problem with by lower legs and strain. It's been a reoccurring problem, that flared up back at trials and we've been monitoring ever since."

"Is that the reason you chose not to contest individual vault?"

"Yes. It was weighed up and the doctors and I decided it was better to keep in good shape for my other events and avoid any undue strain. But it's not too serious, I mean, judge how serious it is from the results. I think I've been going okay." He laughed and Lauren could tell it was fake. "And I don't know anyone who hasn't at some point competed with a niggling injury. Obviously there's a bit of pain but I'll be competing my remaining events even if Carter has to carry me out of here."

"And how does it feel to share the podium with a teammate?"

"I couldn't ask for a better teammate. We've be training together for, god, years now and Carter's a fantastic gymnast. I'm just lucky the Olympics were now and not in a few months, because he just keeps getting better."

The press loved the idea of Carter and Austin and most of the remaining questions came to the pair of them.

"Carter, how do you feel about coming so close to gold and missing out?"

"I feel honoured to win silver." He answered, frowning a little at the question. "I feel honoured just to be here, competing against the best in the world and knowing I performed the best I am capable of. A medal, any medal, is an added bonus."

"And will you keep training together after the Olympics?"

Carter answered first after Austin distinctively didn't.

"I've signed up to be part of the national gymnastics tour." Carter spoke first "After that I fully intend to go back to the Rock and get back to training and of course I'd be thrilled if Austin joined me."

"So is that a confirmation? You'll be continuing to train from 2016."

"Sure." Carter nodded. "That's the plan."

"And Austin?"

"Let's just say if I did train for 2016, it would be at the Rock but I haven't made any definite plans."

M.J. stepped in "next question?"

"Austin, you've now won two gold and a silver, can you beat Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin to be the most successful athlete here in London?"

"Wow; so, no pressure. Well, I've only got three events left." Austin laughed. "And of course the primary goal is gold. Of course I want to win but I'm focused on winning my events not beating Michael."

After they had their fill of the men, they turned to women's vault, but Genji, the biggest surprise of the event, wasn't there to question.

They were all thrilled with their results and things wrapped up fairly quickly.

Officials cleared the press out as the athletes left, and most left quickly enough as well. Lauren, waiting in the wings, crept closer as a pit of unease swelled in her stomach.

M.J. had latched onto the boys and Sasha, Mac and Marcus had all converged as well. Carter had stood and was leaning against the table they'd been seated at.

Beth caught sight of her and Lauren hugged the girl congratulations when she came over but she was more interested in what was going on with the boys.

She crept close enough to hear the hushed argument.

"Austin, darling." That was M.J. "you know I only want what's best for you and of course I can insure a discreet exit if this is what you need."

"No" he cut her off sharply "No. No way. I don't need a" his voice plummeted to a whisper Lauren had to strain to hear "fucking wheelchair. I'm competing rings tomorrow!"

"Tucker." That was Mac "Then I have to ask, how exactly are you planning on getting from that chair to the village?"

"I can make it."

Sasha spoke up. "You barely made it in here. If you can't compete tomorrow, Horton needs to know."

He'd qualified ninth and was the first reserve.

"I can." Austin insisted, the pain was audible "I just need to get back to the village and I can't do it in a wheelchair. Not with two days left. Please. I've made it this far, I can make two more days."

Marcus stepped back with Mac. They stepped towards Lauren and she just briefly had the chance to hear Mac say "We need to get him looked at properly. Not just the once over the team did when he came off the floor." Then the boys caught sight of her.

"Hey gorgeous." Austin spoke first, with a smile she'd just seen through the press conference. It was a smile meant to hide pain. "Are you proud of your boys?"

Carter just smiled and his was completely honest. He stood as she approached and she buried herself in his broad chest.

"I've never… you were both so brilliant. Have I said that yet?" She wrapped her arms around Carter's neck to give him another kiss.

He let her go slowly, reluctantly. And she stepped back, still smiling proudly on his behalf.

"And yes, you were amazing too." She added to Austin.

"Yeah, yeah" he grumbled good-naturedly, and she ran a hand over his hair in a somewhat condescending head pat. Carter smiled at that. He'd come to accept Austin and Lauren as a sort of set. He was struck then, in that moment, that he was incredibly happy.

He could not have been, for a variety of reasons not limited to just missing out on not one but two gold medals, but he didn't mind. He had two Olympic medals, friends, a girlfriend he was absolutely crazy for, and the rest of his life to start worrying about.

"So, what are we doing to celebrate?" Lauren questioned.

"Like I said. Let's stay in."

M.J. interrupted "Carter, sweetheart." ("sweetheart?" Lauren mouthed from behind her back with sly wink) "with Austin out of commission before rings tomorrow, I'd like to get you front and centre, it's a great opportunity to build your public profile."

"Sure. Of course." Carter nodded.

M.J. hesitated "I'll be with you, of course, but if you didn't mention Austin's…" She waved a hand delicately.

"I just need a rest before rings." Austin interrupted

"Don't say just" insisted Lauren. "Just sounds bad."

M.J. nodded with a tweak of her lips. "Lauren's correct. I can brief you fully beforehand. But" She patted his shoulder fondly and her lip tweak twisted into a full of smirk "if you could mention that you celebrated by spending the night 'staying in' well that would be downright adorable. Alright, well, if we're still keeping this under-wraps I better go draw away the thundering herd."

She kissed Austin's cheek "take care of yourself, darling." She insisted before repeating the motion with Carter. "You were wonderful. Both of you, and I'm sure Lauren will take excellent care of you but if you need me, don't hesitate to call. And you, Miss Lauren, we'll talk."

M.J. breezed through the open door, pausing just long enough to run a lingering hand along Sasha's back and give him a flirtatious little wave when he turned.

Mac and Marcus came over to the trio and once they'd confirmed Carter wouldn't be heading straight out to the wilds of London, he started informing them of the logistics of transport back to the village. Lauren nodded along. She was more interested in watching Carter.

While he gave Marcus his full attention his hand was clutching the medal around his neck. He didn't want to let it go, as though if it did it might disappear.

She slid her hand into his other one and squeezed just as tightly.

Back in the village he followed her into the shared, thankfully empty, living room and pressed her against the bedroom door. His hands, his mouth, devoured her. They fumblingly managed to open it without separating.

Payson let out a surprised shriek.

"You're back." She put down her book.

"Pay." Lauren cut her off "Could you be the best person ever and stay somewhere else tonight? Kelly's room? With your parents? Somewhere that's not here?"

"Austin's not back yet, but my bed will be empty." Carter was apologetic, but even so, he only removed one hand from Lauren's body when Payson held out a hand for a swipe card.

"Just tell me there are clean sheets and that you promise to stay off my bed. And," she paused "congratulations. You were amazing."

Lauren kicked the door shut behind Payson and all but leapt into Carter's arms. He caught her and together they fell onto the single bed.

Lauren pulled off her top in one smooth motion and Carter hastily unbuckled his pants, torn between getting into it and pausing long enough to get them both fully undressed.

"Take it all off." Lauren insisted "Everything but the medal."

Afterwards she played with it. Running her fingers over the metal and his smooth chest.

"You're going to do great on beam." He told her, seemingly out of the blue.

She glanced up and met his fond but slightly concerned eyes.


"You've got that look."

"What look?" She asked playfully.

"That look when you're trying to work out every single detail and then destroy anything in your way. That worried look."

"I'm not worried." She insisted, snuggling closer. "Curious, maybe."

"hmm? About what?"

"You? About what you'll do now you're done here?"

"What about it?"

"This is a big moment for you. I just want to know what you're thinking!"

"What I'm thinking is I just won an individual Olympic medal. Lo!"

"I know. Its just sinking in, you're done. I'm almost done. We'll have to start, I don't know, living the rest of our lives."

"I'm not done." Carter insisted "I've never been more motivated in my life than I am right now. I'll take a few weeks, take a holiday, eat bad food, sleep in, then I'm going to be back in the gym. I just won a silver medal, Lo, and I know this is just the beginning for me."

A smile appeared on her face and quickly grew. "I know." She promised. She climbed on top so she could press them torso to torso. "I know."

- chapter break -

After staying up half the night, Lauren was not in the mood for a morning practice session. The dwindling days of the Olympics were being felt by everyone.

She'd scowled watching Carter eat pancakes with ice-cream and chocolate sauce for breakfast.

"It's what I had on my birthday as a kid." He told her, with unabashed joy. He grabbed the bottle of syrup and added even more.

"Kiss me so I can taste it." She insisted, laughing "I hate you just a little bit right now."

While Lauren headed for practice, he took off with Max for a whirlwind media tour.

Lauren's beam was so perfected and repeated she was almost getting sick of it. She had to square her shoulders and remind herself of how awesome it was, and then repeat it with renewed vigour.

Payson was so intently focused she acknowledged Lauren at the beginning and then disappeared into her own head.

Beth was there as well, but with the physios first, touching her up before she had her own floor and beam.

Austin was with the physios as well. They let him train both bars, but no dismounts and certainly no lower body conditioning. They didn't want his lower body touching the floor. Given he had rings that afternoon, the coaches didn't want his upper body worn out, so it ended up being a very light session.

Carter and Max dropped by and ate burgers while watching, bringing back swag from one of the many sponsor locations. Kelly emerged from a training room, still on crutches. She just had warm-up before her big event. Horton trained high bar and Russo trained lightly but with the most determined look on his face. He'd qualified top eight in both, but the two per county rule, and Horton's qualification above him, had kept him out of the high bar final. That rule would always sting and so the rings that afternoon could, and probably would, be his last Olympic event.

Lauren finished up practice and had time to kill. So did Payson, Carter, Beth and Max, so at M.J.'s offer they took were taken on a whirlwind tour of some of London, posting the evidence all over twitter.

Then they had to race back to the arena, though vault was up first and Lauren knew it would be hard to watch.

In the back of her mind, Lauren thought that this was one of Austin's events. He was the defending world champ and Lauren knew he had the skill to perform on it, and for Carter it was a final he'd just missed out on.

But it was also one of her favourite events for the sheer awe factor the men produced. They put the women to shame in terms of power, and that was the kind of gymnastics she liked, the kind that made your jaw drop.

Then it was Kelly's turn on uneven bars and the arena went crazy as they introduced the athletes. If she'd thought they were loud for Louis Smith, they were even crazier for Beth Tweddle.

The field for the uneven bars was incredibly strong. After her meltdown on vault the day before (not to mention the all-around) Genji Cho was considered a wildcard. She certainly should have been a top medal contender. So was her teammate Kam Zsi, who managed a colossal 16.105 with seeming ease in the team final. In the last few days there were rumours she had something up her sleeve for the event final as well.

Ivanka was there, though her strength was in her reliability in posting high 15s scores. Her difficulty capped out problematically. Kelly was a strong contender, and then there was hometown darling Beth Tweddle. Judging by the roar of the crowd she was the only competitor that mattered.

Ivanka's teammate and fellow brilliant bars worker, Victoria Komova would start them off.

Bronze in the Team finals, sixth in the all-around. She's a lovely little gymnast often overshadowed by the might of her teammate, Ivanka Kiralina, but on this event, she could be the star. Gorgeous to watch, she has such beautiful lines….

She did hit the low bar so there will be a deduction. You can't brush your feet on the bar and that is a pity. That might be the difference to keep this gymnast off the podium.

In between routine's M.J. quizzed Lauren. "Best non-gymnastics related moment at the Games?"

"Um, as in my non-gymnastics or non-gymnastics all-together?"

The look M.J. gave her spoke words.

"President Obama calling. That was awesome and meeting Kate Middleton, or, you know, the Duchess and all the really cool tweets I've gotten from my fans, the famous one's and not so famous ones."

15.666. Well it's a strong score but I don't think she'll stay in first place for long. Very unfortunate for Komova.

"And what's been your favourite tweet so far?"

"Well people have been tweeting me all these really cool hairstyles. Either them copying my hair or new styles. There are some really cool ones I have to try out."

M.J. pursed her lips, tapping away at her blackberry. But she nodded, but waited while Elizabeth Seitz performed. Lauren's breath caught at here Geiger. It was the biggest in the world.

M.J.'s phone vibrated just as Seitz exited the mat and she checked the number and hastily excused herself.

Lauren was anxiously wondering what would happen with Genji.

"Do you think she'll bomb it?" Lauren asked Payson.

"She can't" Payson replied "She's Genji Cho. Everyone's been saying she'll win a medal on uneven bars since 2009."

"Do you remember the first time she competed internationally?"

"Pac Rims." Payson nodded "I remember. At Pac Rims. It was the year before we became seniors and she beat everyone on bars, even the seniors. Kelly was furious."

From the beginning they all winced. She was so hesitant, reluctant to release and clearly unsure of herself, until she ate mat. "She's turning into a complete train-wreck." Lauren whispered to Payson, who nodded sadly. Her printed start list was crumpled in Payson's hand. Bars falls were always awful but especially for Payson.

When Genji retook the bar, she performed with brutal efficiency, completing the routine without flash but with near perfect precision. Had she done the whole routine she probably would've had a decent shot at gold.

"Should we block our ears?" Carter suggested, when the next contestant was announced. The arena roared with support.

"Beth Tweddle has an incredible routine. High difficulty. High Risk, high reward.

The noise of her approach to the uneven bars was far surpassed by the standing ovation she received for completing her routine. They could feel the structure physically shake at the stomping and cheering.

They joined in as Beth Tweddle moved into first place

Finally, the crowd settled down and Kelly could begin.

"I think I actually want her to do well." Lauren commented, curious about her own sentiments.

Both Payson and Carter turned to give her that look.

"And I have been very impressed by Kelly Parker. She's suffered a reoccurring ankle injury that almost kept her out of these games. She qualified with it in a medical boot, but was still instrumental in her team's gold medal.

Well she's looking good so far. Very smooth and look at those combinations. She's just flawless today.

Lauren's breath caught as Kelly performed and they all cheered when she stuck the landing with a wobble.

They waited anxiously for the score.

1. Kelly Parker 16.233

2. Beth Tweddle 16.133

"The English are going to lynch us in the street." Lauren insisted "first Max over Louis Smith and now this."

Kam Zsi was up last, after both Kelly and Beth had stayed ahead of the remaining competitors.

And this girl has the final shot at the uneven bars medal, and I think she'll put on a great show. Rumour has it she's got some upgrades in her back pocket she did not use in the event final, which, the Chinese must be regretting. Clean into the handstand, characteristically high into the straddled jaeger with the half twist and, yes, another straddled jaeger. Huge connection bonus. What an amazing start under pressure. Straight in the salto, huge in the tchekev. A little flat on the transfer but that's a long long way when you're so small in the air. Now, almost a dead hang there but this is so exciting to watch. A big one and a half twisting front giant into a full twisting double tuck.

"Damn." Lauren insisted.

"Yeah." Payson nodded.

"She was still fantastic." Carter insisted causing Lauren to nod.

"Of course she was. Kelly was fantastic." She agreed.

Down on the floor Kelly hugged Mac, and hugged the other competitors as well. The crowd was torn between Beth Tweddle missing out on gold, and Beth Tweddle winning a medal. The solution seemed to be to be as loud as possible.

It was great fun.

Kelly cried during the medal ceremony and looked happier than Lauren had ever seen her with a silver medal around her neck.

Afterwards, in between events when the lights went out, Lauren texted Jack. She wanted to check in and felt a bit bad after seeing that basically all the gymnasts were in the athletes section. Most of them usually alternated between the family section and the athlete section, where anyone on an Olympic team could sit. But with so many gymnasts in the team section she wondered who he was with.

Carter read over her shoulder.

"He's sitting with a bunch of people from Austin's old gym." Carter told her "and the British gymnastics federation."

They waited anxiously. M.J. returned, typing furiously as she walked down the steps. She settled in only to shoot off a barrage of seemingly random questions at Lauren, Carter and Payson. She pursed her lips and kept typing.
"M.J. what's going on?" Lauren questioned.

"Cruz is attempting to get on every screen she can, and I'm guessing, tell her own side of the story, or version, I should say."

"Can she do that?" Carter checked

"It's a free country. She can say whatever she likes, but trust me, darling, the press like winners more. I just have to make sure she doesn't keep Lauren off a cereal box."

Finally, rings began and Chen Yibing, Austin's biggest rival, was up first. Austin would be going just after the veteran, Iordan Iovtchev, who was competing in his sixth Olympics and idolised by just about every gymnast in existence.

"He's good." Lauren had to admit of Chen Yibing. Good enough to beat Austin if he didn't have his best day.

Nicky was good as well and they all gave Iordan Iovtchev a standing ovation. Then it was Austin's turn.

As he began, Lauren was struck by the realisation that more than any other event over the last few months, Austin had trained rings. They talked, often, about how powerful a tumbler he was, or vaulter or bar worker, but it was on rings that he was in complete control.

The absence of even the slightest tremor was obvious. This was a master at work from beginning to almost the very end. He landed and bounced a little, cushioning his legs before hurriedly saluting. Sasha helped him off the mat and he hopped twice before being lowered into a seat.

When 16.1 came up as Austin's score, she was sure no one would touch him and that surety continued until the last competitor, a Brazilian who more than surpassed expectations. Sudenly the worry was back but it was unnecessary when he managed a 15.9 for silver.

Austin stood again to wave to the crowd and enjoy the moment.

M.J. and Sasha had agreed for once, and wanted Lauren to have a relaxing night. Carter promised to keep her posted on any village going ons, and so she met her Dad instead. She'd missed him, even for the few days since she'd last seen him.

He'd been busy, apparently, on the contracts for her endorsements and appearances, though kept things light as they caught up.

Afterwards, he eyed her curiously but she wasn't talking.

"Come on kiddo." He insisted afterwards, as they walked along the Thames. "What's wrong?"
"I've got one more event." Lauren answered "the most important ninety seconds of my life, and then everything's going to change."

"It won't be in a bad way." Steve insisted "I thought you were excited about Columbia."

"I am." She insisted. "I'm so excited. I'm just nervous. What if I'm not good at it?"
"At school? Kiddo, you're a great student, when you want to be."

"I know, it's just, I haven't been to school since seventh grade, but it's not just that, I've never lived alone, never even been alone. With you, with Payson, with Carter…"

The look he gave her stopped her in her tracks defensively. She loved Carter. But then he softened.

"And what do you think I'll do kiddo? With a big empty house. What you're feeling now is probably the most normal thing you'll feel this year. Just like every other kid, you'll go off to college and miss me, and probably not call me often enough. I'll come and visit and you'll come home for thanksgiving as well. Hopefully you'll meet a nice pre-law student and dump that curly-haired cowboy you're so fond of…"


"I'm kidding. You don't have to meet a new boy, you could just decide to stay away from boys altogether."

It was her time to give him the unimpressed Tanner look.
"You'll have Austin." He reminded her hopefully.

"That's different. I love Carter."

"I know, but until he's as likely as Austin to get you pregnant, Austin will remain my favourite."

She rolled her eyes but didn't say anything else.

Back at the village she swiped herself in and after a lengthy bath, stretched painted her toenails with Payson. The team captain was near mute with focus, and they almost silently went through their routines. While Payson lay back and visualised her floor routine, Lauren flipped through vogue and figited, full of nervous energy. Payson managed to doze off well before Lauren did. She attempted too, played with her phone, put down the device and stared at the ceiling. She rolled over and rolled over again.

She checked the time. It was 11:30 and Lauren couldn't sleep. Sasha was going to kill her but she was just so wound up it wasn't a possibility.

The athletes who'd finished competing were all out celebrating and the ones who hadn't were all asleep, as she should've been.

Sighing, after another half-hour of tossing and turning, Lauren threw off the covers, grabbed a robe and headed down the corridor.

She barely knocked, going into the apartment. She'd been in there enough and they never locked the front door. She was hoping Carter was awake.

She wasn't quite expecting the amount of people gathered in the living area though.

She searched for Carter and found him quite quickly.

"Lauren, what are you doing here?" He asked. She knew something was off the second he spoke.

"I couldn't sleep. What's wrong with Austin?"

"Nothing." Carter answered "nothing new at least."

"Like the entire US medical team is here. What's happened?"

"Nothing." He told her. "Really, Lo. Don't worry about it."

"You're an awful liar." Lauren had time to quickly tell Carter, because as fast as she could she was heading for the bedroom.

Inside, on the bed, the team doctor had a needle in Austin's leg, and it wasn't the type used for acupuncture.

She froze, and Carter caught her around the middle. "You don't need to see this." Carter murmured in her ear. "Lo. Stop."

"You're using drugs now?" She asked insistently. She felt a welling in her throat but pushed it down disbelievingly.

"Lauren?" Jack questioned. He wasn't the one holding the needle but he was there.

"How can you let him do this?" She demanded of Jack.

"I'm not." He replied "I've made my views very clear."

"The pair of you could start a club" Austin grumbled and Lauren recoiled.

"Lo." He was instantly apologetic "I didn't mean it like that. Stop, okay. Let me explain. It's not like, hard drugs. It's medicinal."

"There's nothing to explain." She insisted "I have to go."

"Wait." He insisted, glaring at the immobilised joint that meant he couldn't move. The doctor finished up, slowly removing the needle. "Just wait Lo."

"There's no explanation." She told him "if you want to use drugs to compete that's your business. But it will mess you up!"

"I don't" he replied "Lo. Look at me.."

Carefully the doctor removed the needle and put a pad over the area. "Can everyone get out?" He requested, but kept a strong grip on Jack's hand. He wanted him to stay. Lauren crept forward "I can compete" Austin insisted "I just can't sleep."


"I can't sleep." He repeated "I just… can't. I lie down and try to relax but the pain is just this constant. I can focus enough to compete on these legs, but I can't compete with no sleep. So I'm taking something to let me rest for a few hours. That's it."

"They're injecting drugs into your leg to let you sleep?"

"A local anaesthetic. It just numbs everything, provided I don't move and it'll wear off by morning."

"And then you can compete?" She peered closer. She could see a dark bruise on his calf. Had she not known better she would've presumed it was the remnants of a bad fall, or even just smacking into something.

"He can try." Jack corrected "every time it gets worse, he's looking at permanent damage."

"Two routines, Lo." Austin insisted "I have never been this focused in my life. I can survive two routines and then I have forever to heal."

Lauren looked to Jack. "I've lost this argument." He informed her "With Aus and with your team doctors."

Back in her room, Payson awoke when Lauren entered.
"Sorry." She apologised, quickly clambering into bed.

"What's going on?"
"Nothing. Go back to sleep. I am." Lauren promised.

- chapter break-

Breakfast was awkward. Payson's interrogation hadn't worked and the team captain was worriedly poking at her breakfast.

Austin was silent but at least he seemed well-rested. He had at least one doctor with him at all time and Lauren wondered, once again, just how bad his leg was. He winced, standing from the table.

"I'll see you later." He promised "If I don't see you before you compete, good luck."

"You too." She insisted "and be careful."

"It two routines, Lo." He insisted "two landings. I'm more worried about whether I'll be able to make it into the stands to watch you."

She hugged him tightly and he kissed the top of her head. "Did you decide on your Leo?" He attempted to change the subject.

She nodded, blinking back tears.

"Hey, I thought you said no crying."

"I just can't believe it's here. The last day of competititon."

"Chin up." He insisted "focus on your routine. And no crying until you've got a medal around your neck."

"That goes for you too. You're right you know, you can hack it. So know crying until you've got your medals."

"No passing out from pain?"

"That too!"

-chapter break -

The gymnasts in Lauren's event finals were all waiting to enter the warm up area when it opened. They had timed periods on the beam but as much as they wanted on the floor which meant as they got warmed up, gymnasts were performing near full routines along chalked lines.

Beth was one of those; though after running a full set along the line she paused for a stretch, a sip of water and a chat with her mother. She spotted Lauren and waved and Lauren waved back before eying the rest of the competition. The little Romanian, Larissa Lordache was there, rumoured to be having heel problems.

Ivanka looked unusually tense and was talking with her coach with arm slung across a beam possessively. She clearly wanted to get up there when the officials let them.

Sui Wei, still fresh from her vault gold medal was throwing insane standing skills on the floor along with neat, precise, turns while her teammate, Yi Din-Kuang drilled a line.

Lauren turned away and then froze before turning back.

"Where's Genji Cho?" She asked aloud.

Sasha stepped closer and told her in a low voice. "She got pulled. They put Sui Wei in, in her place."

"Oh my god." Lauren gaped.

"Lauren" Sasha redrew her attention. "Ready to get started?"

Lauren went through the motions with her floor warm-up but she wanted the actual beam.

Warm-ups were jittery when she finally took to the actual beam. She jumped up first and started her routine from after the mount. It was all going fine until she popped off the side landing her grigoras.

"Lauren. Take a deep breath." Sasha insisted strongly "a deep breath and relax. You've done this thousands of times. On equipment that's exactly the same. All that's changed is what's going on around you, and you can block that out. Just focus on you, and then beam. That's all the matters."

She nodded. "Okay. From the top." He instructed her, patting her shoulder.

This time, while a bit wobbly, she started with the mount and hit it with just a wobble at the end. She made it through the whole routine including the full dismount.

"Alright." Sasha told her "you're ready. Let's leave it there."

"I just want to throw my grigoras." She insisted. "I'm just… I need to throw it."

Sasha sighed. If she hit it once that was fine, but if she blew it, it could throw her off for the whole comp.

"Fine, once." He relented. She used a press mount, positioned herself and threw the grigoras. She took a few steps back and then threw it again, ignoring Sasha's exasperated sigh.

"Enough." He insisted. She nodded, squared her shoulders and hopped off, missing the fact that more than a few people were eying her worriedly.

They announced the conclusion of the session and ordered everyone to prepare for the main arena.

Sasha checked his phone while she pulled on sweats.

"Is that Austin?" She asked. The nature of the day meant Austin had graciously insisted Mac coach him for his last two events, which would free Sasha up to be present for Payson and Lauren.

"15.566. He's got bronze." Sasha laughed "behind Nguyen and Zhe."

"That's insane." Lauren commented "Austin got bronze, on parallel. I know he was thinking about not even competing the final."

"Well I guess he's lucky he did." Sasha told her, before insisting "alright. Time to focus?"

Beth hugged her before they went in. Ivanka nodded at her and they shook. "Good luck." The Russian stated. "I intend to challenge you today."

"And I intend to win." Lauren replied, but there was no malice in her voice.

Ivanka nodded and was led off by her coach and Lauren immediately slipped back into the zone.

She marched in, and was presented. Her smile felt harsh and fake but she didn't care. She didn't want to waste energy acting. Instead she bounced up and down, attempting to stay warm. She was fourth, perhaps the most awkward position.

Sasha rubbed her shoulders and she was suddenly nervous.

"Deep breaths." He insisted.

She didn't watch, but even so she heard the roar of the crowd and new Beth must have done a good job.

Then came Ivanka, and Lauren, waitin, couldn't help but watch. She looked oddly nervous, and Lauren knew why the second she threw her turn combination. When combined with a extra half twist on the dismount, she'd join Lauren with a sky high difficulty. Not as high as Lauren's, but enough that if she'd competed that in the all-around, she would've won. It was oddly sobering. She told Sasha as much.

"But she didn't." He insisted, redirecting her focus. "Lauren, that's all that matters."

"You're right. This is the beam final, at the Olympics. Oh my god."

"No." Sasha hurridly backtracked "its just another beam, on another day, where you will come out and be the best. Because you are. You just need to show them why."

She nodded, eyes narrowing on Catalina Ponor's routine, but she wasn't watching the gymnast. She was staring at the apparatus. Sasha was right. This was the moment she'd been waiting for her entire life.

Lauren didn't know Ivanka scored a colossal 16.4. She didn't care.

She carefully paced out the steps for her mount and swung her arms, reading herself. She barely nodded at Sasha and instead waited for the signal, taking in deep breaths.

Her feet his the beam and she bounced down it to a dead stop.

And a brilliant beginning for Lauren Tanner. She is in complete control. Now here she goes, ariel walkover, into a backwards walkover and a twisting flick into the handstand. That's my favourite move of this routine. She completely owns this apparatus.

Well we talk a lot about those valuble connection bonuses and this routine is just full of them, all contributing to an unparalleled difficulty score. Now the jumps, see how she throws her head right back, so she can't spot the balance beam. That's what makes them so difficult but she makes them look easy.

Now the turn, her turn 'in attitude' is what they call that skill and it takes a lot more balance than some of the other skills, holding your leg back like that, and now her biggest challenge and one of the few areas I've seen Lauren Tanner struggle is this skill here, the grigoras. It takes a lot of height and power and really favours the smaller gymnasts but… yes! A wobble for Tanner but she remains cool, in control, and that should not cost her too much.

Now just the dismount. Here she goes and wow. A twisting double-tuck back salto. She puts it all on the table and what a performance by Lauren Tanner. This is her time. She is the Queen of this event, I have no doubt.

Lauren was blinking back tears as she saluted and she threw herself as Sasha who wrapped his arms around her.

"Good job." He told her. "Good job."

"Can I cry now?" She asked.


She promptly burst into full-blown crying. Tears streamed down her face.

"Oh, Lauren." He exclaimed hugging her again.

She pulled back just long enough to inform him "I'm not supposed to cry until I know for sure."

He laughed as she hastily wiped under her eyes, trying to avoid a makeup disaster. It didn't help because she kept crying. Beth came over and hugged her as the score went up.

Lauren Tanner: 17.35.

Ivanka Kirralina 16.45

Beth Atchinson: 15.805

It was good. It was amazing. She would be proud of that score for the rest of her life but she knew better than to tempt the gymnastics gods by declaring victory just yet.

Instead, she let Sasha guide her to a chair and hand her a bottle of water to sip at. The tears didn't stop, not did her grip on poor Beth's hand lessen.

One of the Russian coaches congratulated her.

After Larissa Lordache competed Lauren stood as they passed and the two girls hugged. The rest of the Romanian contingent repeated the action.

Lauren waited.

The last two gymnasts were the Chinese and Lauren's heart was in her throat. Yi Din-Kuang posed no threat, and deep down Lauren knew that mathematically Sui Wei couldn't either, but still she waited, clutching Sasha's hand and still sniffling a little. She tried to make herself stop. If somehow she lost and she was crying then it would look awful.

Sui Wei was fantastic. She was so good she nudged Beth out of third place, but never came close to Lauren or Ivanka. The tears welled fully as it sunk in and once more, Lauren threw her arms around Sasha. She repeated it again and again, throwing her head back as the tears turned to full blown sobs. Her breath came out shakily.

"Deep breaths." Sasha murmered. The tv cameras were everywhere.

"It doesn't seem real." She exclaimed "oh my god."

Outside, she attempted to pull it together before they went back onto the floor. She hastily dabbed at her eyes and reapplied her eye-makeup and some lip colour. She stared at herself in the mirror and tried to stop her eyes watering. She turned away and promptly started again when Beth gave her a weak smile and came over. Just missing out on bronze had to hurt.

Beth hugged her again and so Sui Wei, though Lauren felt like she could crush the gymnast in her arms.

The sixteen year old, who looked about twelve spoke quietly but surely. "You are, very good." She insisted.

"Thank you." Lauren smiled both weakly and gratefully.

"You are having a party tonight, yes?"

"Yeah. I'm sure we are." Lauren insisted.

"I would very much like to come and talk more."

"Okay. Yeah. That sounds awesome."

They led them out, placed the medal around her neck and when she stood up straight there were tears pouring down her face again.

She was still crying when she got to meet her Dad. He wrapped her up in a giant hug and told her how proud he was. She started full-on sobbing.

"Oh Kiddo, what's wrong?"

"Nothing." She shook her head "I'm just so happy"

"She's got a few weeks worth of emotion going on there." Sasha informed him helpfully. "Apparently she and Tucker made some sought of pact not to cry."

She managed to control herself but was still crying through Carter's congratulations.

"You're happy?"

She nodded. "I don't know what's wrong with me." She quickly started rapidly blinking again and then laughed "everything is so perfect."

Steve scowled at Carter, who hadn't let go and she stepped away so she could hug her Dad again.

"You were so good, kiddo." He told her. "It was…" Steve's eyes swelled up.

"Now you're going to cry as well."

"I hate to tell you kiddo, but I'm pretty sure NBC already has plenty of shots of me doing just that."

She laughed and then paused when they heard an announcement.

"That's High bar." Lauren stated.

"Do you want to watch?" Carter offered.

She nodded, breathless. "I do."

The tears slowed as she made her way up there and into the stands. A few people she could see waved at her. Those close enough gave her congratulations first hand and she managed to hold it together through them. Then someone had the bright idea of putting her on the jumbo-screen while the first man got ready to start and the tears came back full force.

"You really can't help yourself, can you?" Carter found it oddly endearing.

She just shook her head and enjoyed being pulled against him, smiling happily.

She played with her gold medal while the first athlete prepared.

"He really won bronze in P-bars?" She asked. It seemed a lifetime ago, even though it'd been less than an hour. She smiled when M.J. took a pointed photo of Lauren, Carter and Steve and dutifully posted it to twitter using lots of exclamation points. She could do it without looking at this point.

"I know, its ridiculous. It's like he can't lose."

"And his legs?"

"It was pretty brutal. He looked like he'd rather stay on the floor then leave and have to come back in again. Marcel Nguyen had to help him to the podium and they taped on ice packs."

They turned their attention to the floor as the first competitor began. It was Jon Horton and while he was an outstanding athlete, in the last four years the difficulty of high bar in particular had sky-rocketed.

Epke Zonderland would be Austin's main competition but it was a strong field. Zonderland had the highest difficulty score, shortly followed by Austin. The rest of the field were close behind though, and it was anyone's game.

Austin was up second. He could barely hobble to the bars. He looked awful. He looked visibly in pain even from the stands.

"Oh my god." Lauren stated.

Once he was on the bar though, you couldn't tell. His releases were clean, his form impeccable and as he prepared his dismount, Lauren couldn't see how he wouldn't win.

For a second, the whole world agreed with her. The crowd leapt to their feet before he'd even saluted. This was their champion. Amid the noise they missed the awful sound Austin heard all too clearly.

His salute was a feeble raise of arms, and the motion of turning towards the judges saw the problem increase exponentially.

Red gushed and Austin fell to the mat, clutching at his leg, gasping and silently screaming in pain. As the crowd became quiet they heard some of the noises he was making.

The crowd twitched, suddenly silent and Lauren stared. Is that? That was blood. How is there blood on the mat?

On the bright pink mats, Austin had been swarmed by at least a dozen people and the whole arena was silent. Lauren realised she was standing, suddenly and quickly sat down.

He must be unconscious. She thought suddenly. Followed by the morbid thought of if he were conscious he'd be screaming or twitching or something.

There was nothing they could do; nothing any of them could do.

Quickly enough he was on a stretcher and to a standing crowd he was taken out. As they took him off the mats, someone started clapping, the whole arena stood and clapped and Lauren was crying again.

- Chapter break -

So… a hell of a way to end Austin's Olympic journey. As for factual accuracy, apparently gymnasts routinely break their legs and get stress fractures, and stress fractures can escalate into a full blown fracture (though I couldn't find much about compound fractures on the internet. I guess because no one's as crazy as I've made Austin in this.) There is a famous Japanese gymnast who called Shun Fujimoto who broke his knee in the floor exercise of team finals and then competed pommel and rings to help his team win gold. He managed to dismount from rings, salute, and then collapse in agony. Mental strength and adrenalin people! There was also a kick-arse Australian who earlier this year (at Pacific Rims I think) broke her ankle and bled all-over the mats! And of course Jordyn Wieber competed through the London games with a stress fracture apparently, McKayla Marony a broken toe and Larissa Lordache with a bone bruise. Ouch. Am I glad I'm not a gymnast or what?

By the way, if you're interested in who the gymansts are based off, I've decided to put some notes. It did become a bit hard writing the London games, when many of the gymnasts they're competing against, were at the games (and won medals!).

Carter was originally Kyle Shewfelt but increasingly I've been taking bits from Zhang Cheng Long.

Austin was originally Marian Dragulescu, but his career (not his build) was also based off Japan's superman Kohei Uchimura. If you didn't notice, he's a bit of a gymnastics freak. He's got a whole range of other gymnasts in there as well, including Chen Yibing.

Kelly Parker was based off Aliya Mustafina – though mostly on bars.

Payson was Kseniia Afensea or Nastia Liukin with a heavy mix of my own hand.

Kaylie was originally Sabrina Vega.

Beth was Shawn Douglas, with a strong Aly Raisman influence, especially on bars and with a much better vault.

Lauren's bar routine came from Jordyn Wieber. Most of her bars flops were actual flops taken from commentary.

Kam Zsi is He Kexin circa 2008 (though really, pretty awesome in London as well).

For those curious about the scores. The highest scores weren't that much higher than the scores from the last Quad (Beijing, which was the scoring system I used).

If anyone has any questions let me know!

Here's a summary of the results so far:

Lauren: Team gold, AA Gold, Beam gold

Austin: Team silver, AA gold, floor gold, rings gold, P-bars bronze.

Carter: Team silver, floor silver

Nicky Russo/Jon Horton: Team silver

Max Spencer: Team silver, Pommel Silver – the perpetual dark horse this boy.

Kelly Parker: Team gold, Bars silver

Beth Atchinson: Team gold, vault silver.

Payson: Team gold.

And btw the commentary is taken from a mix of NBC (Tim and Elfie who like the colourful stuff) the dry factual BBC team and the fantastic commentary by Shannon Miller and someone whose voice I don't recognise for the Official Olympic youtube channel.

Review Replies:

Luv2Live – I am so sorry. Life exploded. I hope you like it! As for Payson, keep competing straight away? No. But the beauty of Payson is she's already taken time off and developed the hips and the height. I have plans for her… I'll say that. As for her barely making the team, well, it was touch and go. In some respects they all barely made the team. But if she were in any other country she would be a definite lock. As for Lauren… well. Again, I have plans. That's not to say she won't consider it though. And you'll also have to wait until next chapter to find out how Payson does… sorry?

J – Sorry it took so long. I hope this suffices.

Guest- Glad to have you. I don't think there will be a sequel, just a very well explored epilogue. I've a few thousand words left in me and that always seems to explode exponentially. I'm a rambler! I will write a fair bit of what's to come. At the moment the epilogue goes up to 2036 so… Anyhow. I'm glad you liked that Lauren won, I thought having her win because Genji fell and by luck the tiebreak rule fell on her side was a nice twist. For a while back at the beginning she wasn't even going to contest the all-around… And yes, poor Kaylie! Well, she'll be back soon enough.

ELM-Tree10 – Oh thanks! (blushes). I'm afraid Kaylie isn't done yet but after this chapter, I don't think Lauren really thinks about Kaylie at all. She's got bigger things on her mind. That said, she'll be back (And yes, in a freaky terminator refuses to die kind of way!). But when she does she'll have grown a bit, but not necessarily in way Lauren will be pleased by. Thanks for all your support throughout this story. Not long now!

FanficRdr25 – thnks! There aren't too many of us out there.

Iargyrop – glad you like the result. I'm still not sure about Kelly… maybe I'll write Kelly as unsure then?

Next chapter: Payson and the last gymnastics event of the Games. What condition is Austin in? Who wins high bar gold? Can the judges take marks off for bleeding everywhere? Will Austin regret his decision to compete and do further damage? Lauren adjusts to retirement. M.J. and Lauren have a disagreement. Max gets into trouble (And gets Lauren and Carter into trouble). Lauren gets into her own trouble. The closing ceremony and the end of the Olympic experience….