There was no denying Kim Kelly this time; no politicos to tell her she was too big or too old, which amounts to washed up in gymnastics.
Kelly, who helped Alabama to its third NCAA women's gymnastics championship, just drilled another perfect floor routine, embraced her sobbing teammates and walked away from a career that has brought her triumph and heartache to dizzying degrees.
On Saturday, the senior from King of Prussia, Pa., repeated the 10 on the floor that helped clinch the team title for the Crimson Tide the night before. What was almost certainly her last routine as a competitive gymnast left her coach and teammates in tears at the realization that it was over.
This sport that consumes little girls at the most tender of ages and casts them off like old-timers when they reach 20 has not always been this kind to Kelly. She qualified for the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, only to be left off at the last minute.
"They wanted the American team to look like the Russians, who are all 14 years old," Kelly said. "I did just as many tricks, just as much difficulty. It seems like everybody is turning it into a little girls' sport."
Kelly turned the NCAA individual event finals into her own show. In her grand finale, Kelly electrified the gym with a flawless floor routine, thrusting her arms in the air to punctuate each tumbling pass.