Patterson was at a cousin's birthday party at a gymnastics club in 1994 when a coach noticed her doing cartwheels and roundoffs and told her mother that she should start taking lessons, which she did soon afterward.
In 2000, Patterson participated in the Top Gym Tournament in Belgium; she won the silver medal in the all-around and the bronze medal for balance beam, which she has said is her favorite event. At the 2001 American Team Cup, she first performed her signature beam dismount, an Arabian double front.
At the 2001 Goodwill Games in Brisbane, Australia, she was ranked second in the all-around before the final rotation. She was suffering from a stomach illness, however, and she missed three landings on the floor exercise and finished seventh overall. Nevertheless, her balance beam routine was particularly spectacular, featuring what would become her signature double arabian dismount (later to be named "the Patterson").
Patterson was named the U.S. Junior National All-Around champion in 2002. She had previously received fourth place in 2000 and third place in 2001. She was forced to sit out the 2003 U.S. National Championships because of a broken elbow (a big disappointment for Patterson, as this was to be her first senior nationals). At the 2003 World Gymnastics Championships in Anaheim, California, she earned the all-around silver medal —the first time an American woman had won an all-around medal at that competition since 1994. She also helped her team to earn the team gold medal.
Patterson won the all around at the prestigious American Cup competition in both 2003 and 2004. (This event helped to launch Nadia Comaneci's career before the Olympics in 1976.) In 2003, Patterson was the youngest competitor, having just turned 15, and it was her first major senior competition. In 2004, she swept the meet, winning all four events and the all around, collecting a total of $14,000 for her wins ($10,000 for the all around, $1,000 per event).
In 2004, she became a co-champion with Courtney Kupets in the all-around event at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. She also won the floor exercise and placed second on balance beam.
At the 2004 Olympic trials, Patterson had two uncharacteristic falls on balance beam over the course of two days, dropping her to third place. Although she did not earn an automatic Olympic berth at this competition, her successful performances at the training camp following trials were more than enough to place her on the team.
2004 Summer Olympics
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Patterson competed as an all-around athlete and delivered outstanding performances in the preliminary competition, finishing first overall, qualifying for the all-around and balance beam finals. In the team finals, Carly did not perform as well she did in the preliminaries. She later admitted that she was more nervous than she had previously been in the Olympic competition. The team made other mistakes and came away with the silver medal. Despite the fact that gold was the expectation (since they were the reigning World Champions), the team was happy with its silver medal finish.
In the Individual All-Around competition, Carly once again performed like she did in the prelimiary competition. After scoring lower than usual on the vault (9.375), Carly was nearly perfect on her last three events, scoring 9.575 on uneven bars, 9.725 on the balance beam, and 9.712 on the floor exercise. She won the gold medal, an achievement that had only been attained by one other American gymnast, Mary Lou Retton, during the 1984 summer games. Carly became the first American woman to ever win the Olympic All-Around title in a fully attended Olympic Games.
On August 23, she competed in the finals for the beam event where she received a score of 9.775 and won the silver medal behind Catalina Ponor of Romania.
Leading up to the 2004 Olympic Games, she was prepared by her two former Soviet coaches: the famous Russian acrobat Evgeny Marchenko, who immigrated to the United States from Latvia after the Collapse of the Soviet Union, and Natalya Boyarskaya.
Carly Patterson has done the talk show circuit and has made numerous guest appearances since the Athens Games. Patterson decided in 2006 she would not plan to participate in the 2008 Olympic Games and would retire from Gymnastics. Her coach said in a TV interview, "It's hard to top an All-Around Gold."
She has stayed occupied with event appearances, gymnastics-related and otherwise. She has also landed a number of high profile corporate sponsorships; she appeared in a Mobile ESPN commercial aired during Super Bowl XL. She also has finished her authorized biography, which was released in April, 2006.
First announced in a March 2005 interview, Patterson has expressed interest in becoming a professional singer. On August 21, 2005, she gave an interview on FOX Sports Net's Sports Sunday in which she gave more details on her future career. She sang a small segment of "Damaged" and said that she went to New York City to record the demo. On December 18, 2005, she announced that she signed a demo contract for four songs with Papa Joe's Records, owned by Joe Simpson, father of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson. She worked with singer and writer Chris Megert. They wrote and produced songs titled "Time to Wake Up" and "Lost in Me". The demo contract with Papa Joe Records has since expired, and the future of her professional singing career is unknown.
"Celebrity Duets" TV Show
On August 29, 2006, she started her appearance on the show Celebrity Duets. The program is a reality show executive produced by Simon Cowell of American Idol fame. Celebrities not known for singing are teamed up with professional singers; one of the eight celebrities are voted off each week. The show airs every Thursday on FOX with a results show each Friday, from September 7 to October 13.
On September 8, during the "results" show, she joined Cheech Marin and Lea Thompson in the bottom three. The audience, however, spared Patterson from elimination to continue competing next week on Thursday, September 14.
On September 15, during the "results" show, Carly Patterson was eliminated from the competition (singing a duet with Jesse McCartney). Patterson said that she will continue to sing. She also encouraged the audience to continue voting for the remaining celebrities because the cause is charity.