BALTIMORE — Of all the gym joints in all the cities in all the world, Shannon Miller had to walk into the Baltimore Arena Thursday and spoil Kim Zmeskal's night.
If only briefly, Miller is the leader at the Olympic gymnastics trials after the compulsory competition. At least until they play it again on Saturday.
Miller's performance was no surprise. She has alternated with Betty Okino as the second-ranked gymnast in the country for the past year. And there is room for more than one gymnast on the Olympic team--six eventually will be chosen.
But it has been so long since anybody beat Zmeskal at anything.
"I did the best that I could do and I'm happy with that, and the rest is up to the judges," Zmeskal said. "I still have Saturday."
Compulsory exercises, a series of required movements, count 60% of the final score. The optionals, a gymnast's own routine, will be held Saturday and count 40%.
Miller beat Zmeskal in the compulsory exercises at the 1991 World Championships and Zmeskal recovered nicely in optionals the next day, winning the title. Miller finished sixth.
But for now, Miller, 15, of Edmond, Okla., is in first place with 57.057 points. She beat Zmeskal, 16, of Houston by 0.26 points, which is a wobble on the beam maybe, or even a twitch.
"In compulsories, everybody does the same routine, so it's whoever does the best," Miller said.
The top four gymnasts are close, only 0.855 separates Miller from fourth-place Michelle Campi, who dislocated her elbow Tuesday in practice but still qualifies for the team with her score from the U.S. Championships.
It's an injury Miller is familiar with. She dislocated her elbow March 31 on a dismount from the bar, but only missed one day of practice. With her arm in a splint, she was right back in the gym.
Zmeskal's teammate at Bela Karolyi's Gym in Houston, Kerri Strug, finished third and Dominique Dawes of Hill's Angels in Silver Spring, Md., finished fifth.
Fractions separate the sixth- through eighth-place finishers.
The mood of the competition was tense. There were no smiles, and there was a lot of pacing among the 13 gymnasts and their coaches. Only the top seven finishers after Saturday's competition advance to the Olympic training squad. That's why nobody could sit still--except Okino.
At home in Houston, Okino sat in her living room and watched on television as her best friend, Zmeskal, and two other teammates warmed up. Okino still has a chance to make the team, but insiders say it is a long one.
She is recovering from a fractured vertebrae that has kept her out of training for weeks and in pain for months. She started a full workout schedule only last week.
"I just can't listen to those people who make those comments that I won't make it, and there are a lot of those comments floating around, in the newspapers and all," Okino, 17, said. "If I pay attention to them, it would be distracting. I want to be there at the trials, but it would be kind of stupid right now. I am doing what is best by not competing."
Based on Okino's national ranking and fourth-place finish in the 1991 World Championships, she will be allowed to work out with the seven top finishers from the Olympic trials. From that group of eight, six members and one alternate will be chosen by an Olympic coaching squad to make the team.
"The main problem for Betty was that she grew three or four inches all of a sudden," said Aurelia Okino, Betty's mother, from her home in Elmhurst, Ill.
"While you are growing your bones are weaker, and in January alone she grew two inches. She had pains in her knees. Then she lost all senses in her leg. She had to learn how to walk all over again. Then she recovered from that and hurt something else."
Aurelia Okino said it hurts her to see her daughter go through this, "but Betty is the most optimistic of all."
Olympic Trial Notes
Golfer Tom Kite and his wife Christy and daughter Stephanie, 10, were among the 7,134 spectators. Stephanie is a gymnast in Austin, Tex. . . . The men's compulsory competition will be held tonight. Trying to make the team after 10 years away from the sport is Kurt Thomas, 36, who retired in 1980 after the United States boycotted the Olympics.