BEIJING — Back and forth Nastia Liukin paced, anxiety radiating from her body, her eyes locked on Shawn Johnson on the podium above.
Liukin had done everything she could to win the gold medal. Johnson's performance would determine if she would.
They are the best in the world, these two American gymnasts, sharing the spotlight and the glory — even a room at the athletes' village. But an Olympic gold medal is not something to be shared, no matter how close the friends.
"Going into this, we knew there would be only one champion,” Liukin said. "And we both were going for it.”
Liukin got it.
The women's all-around title came down to the teammates. Even better, it came down to not only the last event, but the last two competitors. Liukin up first, Johnson up last, the gold medal hanging in the balance.
"We have both wanted it so bad that we've pushed each other so much, and I think that we became better and stronger gymnasts because of each other,” Liukin said after she edged Johnson on Friday for gymnastics' biggest prize.
"I think if it had just been one of us, there wouldn't be someone chasing your tail and wanting to make you work even harder,” Liukin said.
Too young in 2004, she was anointed as the favorite for Beijing as soon as the Athens Olympics ended.