If Kim Hamilton had been watching Natalia Makarova in "Swan Lake" on television instead of Nadia Comaneci in the 1976 Olympics, she might have become a dancer instead of a gymnast.
But Hamilton, then an 8-year-old living in a poor neighborhood in Richmond, Va., had the channel turned to Nadia, not Natalia. And after she turned off the program, she began turning somersaults and tumbling on the floor of her living room--much to her mother's dismay.
"I started to do things in the living room and on the sidewalks," said Hamilton, "and I used to do flips on bricks or on the sidewalk, which was pretty unsafe.
"After awhile, my mother said that she would have to find me mats or take me to a gymnastics school." She took Kim to school, the Richmond Olympiad, where the child took lessons from coaches Jim Roe and Judy Shaw.
To help pay for the lessons, Hamilton and her mother, who is separated from her husband and works as an insurance company claims manager, cleaned the gym after Kim's lessons.
Hamilton said her mother was "not wealthy. My mom made a lot of sacrifices to pay for my workouts." The workouts began to pay off, so much so that in her sophomore year at George Wythe High School in 1983 she won the U. S. Gymnastics Federation's Class I national all-around championship.
For six years she was the top gymnast in Virginia, and she won other titles in England and South Africa. At 16 she was selected to take part in trials for the U. S. national team for the 1984 Olympics. She did not make the team but in 1985 moved up to the elite class in gymnastics and finished fourth in the all-around at the U. S. championships.
Though Hamilton, one of but a few top black gymnasts in the United States, did not get a chance to be a teammate of Mary Lou Retton and others on the U. S. silver medalist team in the Olympics, she was "happy that I got to the trials. For most people, it takes several times to make it that far. So I was very pleased."
She also pleased a lot of college gymnastics coaches when she was in high school, and offers of scholarships poured in. She chose UCLA, pleasing Bruin Coach Jerry Tomlinson no end.
As a freshman last year she helped Tomlinson and his Bruins to one of their best seasons. UCLA won the Pacific 10 Conference, finished with a 15-3 overall record and took third place at the NCAA meet where Hamilton was, as this year's press guide put it, "a shining star."
Hamilton, to quote the press guide further, "thrilled the crowd with a dazzling meet record 9.80 performance (in) the floor exercise to win the NCAA individual title in the event. Hamilton also earned All-America honors in the vault and captured the all-around title at the NCAA West Regional championship with a 38.40 effort."
What does she do this year to top all that? Because she is tall for a gymnast at 5-7, she said she has several handicaps to overcome:
"It's harder for me to rotate my legs because they're so long. It's harder getting around.
"I have problems in the layout position (when she has to keep her body straight) and in the pike position (when she must touch her toes in the air like a diver). And the bars are hardest."
In her first year at UCLA, she also had problems with loneliness and homesickness. "Last year was hard, hard for me to meet people because I'm not very forward. But if people walk up to me, that's different."
Things are a little easier for her this year. Corwin Anthony, a sophomore tight end on the football team from Bakersfield, must have walked up to her because they are dating.
Still, she said, "I don't have many friends, except for the girls on the team" and her dormitory roommate, Veronica Cuevas from Concord.
Why did she accept a scholarship from UCLA, some 3,000 miles from her home in Virginia?
"I like the campus, and for some reason I wanted to come here. Coach Tomlinson is nice, and I liked the fact that he stressed academics over sports.
"At the other schools, they stressed athletics and that was all. They didn't say anything about school."
The salutatorian of her high school graduating class, Hamilton said she has not declared what her major will be at UCLA. But she said she thinks it might be design, with a possible goal of becoming a product designer. Her fall quarter classes were in Greek and Roman architecture, earth and space science and abnormal psychology. If she is undecided about a career goal, she still has plenty of goals in college gymnastics.
"I'd like to compete in the all-around again this year and start off better. Last year I was slow in the beginning and got better.
"Vaulting last year was a major problem for me, but I think I've improved a lot and I have a new vault. On the beam, I'd like to do a different dismount this year. I'd like to improve my tumbling and do more difficult tricks in floor exercise."
She might try out for the national team that will go to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but her "first priority is to do the best I can in collegiate gymnastics."