LONDON – A smudged American flag decal complemented the youthful freckles on Miranda Leek's right cheek.
She also smiled and laughed when she spoke to reporters moments after the U.S. women's archery team fell to China in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympic Games on a dreary Sunday at the Lord's Cricket Ground.
Leek was not bummed out and she didn't make excuses. Indeed, it wasn't the typical response most people expect from a teenager.
“I feel like our performance deserves a gold star,” said the upbeat 19-year-old, who also sported a patriotic red, white and blue ribbon in her pony tail. “I shot well today and I thought my teammates shot strong as well. China was just a little better than us today. That happens.”
Entering the final round, the second-seeded U.S. trailed by a mere point and fired three straight nines for its final tally. China did not feel the pressure at all and hit consecutive 10's to pull out a 218-213 win.
U.S. archery coach KiSik Lee was not thrilled with the squad's early exit from the team competition but is still optimistic for Leek at these Games.
“The team did well but our starts were slower than usual,” he said. “Miranda is doing well and is in good shape for her match for tomorrow.”
Leek and her two veteran teammates – Khatuna Lorig and Jennifer Nichols – will each compete separately in Monday's individual competition so the chance for a medal is still very much alive for the U.S. archers.
Lorig, 38, who is making her fifth Olympic appearance, she knows talent when she sees it.
“Miranda is going to keep going in this sport,” Lorig said after Sunday's match. “That's for sure.”
Nichols, 28, is also experienced at the international level and is making her third straight Olympic appearance. But with so much veteran leadership on the squad, it was Leek who stepped up and fired the match's first shot for the U.S.
It was a 10 and it received a loud ovation from the soggy crowd.
“I got up there and made it a point to shoot a great shot to start,” said Leek, who will start her freshman year at Texas A&M University in the fall. “It was an amazing feeling because the first shot is always the hardest. To get that positive imprint in my mind and to put it in my team's mind was important. Plus, we wanted to try and scare the competition a little bit.”
Unfortunately for the U.S., it did not start a trend. Nichols scored the only other 10 on Sunday and it came during the fourth-to-last shot in the match.
After the U.S. pulled off a second-place finish in Friday's ranking round, big things were expected as the team took aim at its first medal in the team competition since 1988.
Did Friday's stellar round add any pressure?
“I think it was just the opposite,” said Leek, who competed at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games and won two silver medals at the 2011 Pan American Games. “I mean, we finished so close behind Korea on Friday. It was more like, 'Look at us world, look what we can do.'”
South Korea went on to edge China in the gold medal match, 210-209. It was the seventh consecutive gold medal for the South Koreans since the event was introduced at the Olympics 24 years ago.
If Leek can maintain her positive attitude and care-free approach to the Games, she will surely challenge some of the dominant South Koreans on Monday.
Her spirit was evident Sunday as she put down her bow and waved to the crowd in between rounds.
“The pressure builds as you go through a match so it's important for me to detox a little bit and just sort of relax,” said Leek, who sought out three family members and a teammate in the stands during the competition. “It's great shooting in front of people who support you.”
One of her biggest supporters is Lee, who slapped the small U.S. flag decal on Leek's face just before the team walked onto the field to compete. Of course, the sudden last-minute addition did not hinder Leek's performance but eventually, the teenager in her finally came out.