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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | GYMNASTICS

Individual Gold Would Burnish Miller's Memories

July 25, 1996|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — She wasn't theatrically carried to the victory stand in the arms of her coach, and she doesn't invite magazine photographers into her bedroom at home so that they may shoot her playing with her stuffed-animal collection.

In fact, Shannon Miller would avoid the bright light of fame altogether if it didn't come automatically attached to the 9.95 balance beam scores that so obsess her.

While 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu prepared for these Olympic Games by releasing her autobiography and posing for every camera lens that happened by, Miller had cut off all pre-Olympic interview requests by early June, claiming, through her agent, that she didn't want to be disturbed as she focused all her waking energy on her quest for two pieces of gold.

She won one Tuesday night, helping the United States to its first Olympic championship in women's team gymnastics.

The other will be determined tonight at the Georgia Dome when Miller and 35 other gymnasts vie for the Holy Grail of the sport, the individual all-around title.

The chase has consumed Miller ever since she lost the 1992 all-around gold to Tatiana Gutsu of the Unified Team--what was left of the old Soviet Union machine--by a mere .012. It was a particularly galling defeat. Miller was nearly perfect, scoring 39.725 out of a possible 40.0, only to have Gutsu edge her by a fraction of a fraction on her second and final vault of the competition.

And, Gutsu had qualified for the all-around finals only as an injury replacement. She finished team competition fourth among Unified gymnasts--each country is allowed a maximum of three gymnasts--but Gutsu was the newly crowned European champion, so Unified officials conveniently announced that comrade Roza Galiyeva had "aggravated" a knee injury, opening a spot for Gutsu in the finals.

Does the near-miss gnaw at Miller?

Her coach, Steve Nunno, says .012 is the combination for all his locks at home.

Here, Miller has methodically moved into position to finally erase that memory. She completed team competition in second place, behind defending world champion Lilia Podkopayeva of the Ukraine. Americans Dominique Dawes, who placed sixth, and Kerri Strug, who was seventh, also qualified, but Strug's ankle sprain will keep her out of the floor tonight. She will be replaced by Moceanu, who finished 11th in team competition.

If not the moment of a lifetime, tonight is the reason Miller re-upped for four more years of daily eight-hour workouts, six days a week. It is why she has endured chronic ligament pain in both wrists, and back and ankle injuries that kept her out of competition for nearly a year preceding June's U.S. national championships.

It is why, at the gymnastically geriatric age of 19 years four months, she is still dragging her old bones over the uneven bars, huffing and puffing after the 15-year-old tykes.

"That's one reason I stayed with it," Miller said at a Team USA news conference last week. "I wanted to show them I can still do it."

She looks back on Barcelona as "an overwhelming experience. I was definitely overwhelmed by the media. You walk off the competition floor into the pit area and there are hundreds of media, wanting to talk to you and take your picture. I was pretty shy then. It took me by surprise."

Four years later, Miller remains the stealth gymnast of Atlanta. A woman of few words, most of them rehearsed, and disciplined, regimented, consistent routines, as her compulsory scores here illustrate: 9.762 on vault, 9.775 on bars, 9.737 on beam, 9.787 on the floor.

"She's not a 'personality person,' like Dominique Moceanu is," Nunno says of Miller. "She's the girl next door. Very modest.

"Dominique has a more dynamic presence. She's very marketable, and her agents and coaches have sought that type of publicity for her. Dominique's the kind of kid who, if she didn't get her picture in the paper, I don't think she'd be in gymnastics.

"That's not Shannon's goal. She's in the gym to compete in the Olympic Games, win a gold medal, get a new skill. That's her focus."

Now, if she hits four more routines tonight, Nunno can at last get those locks of his changed.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Women's Gymnastics

Artistic Competition

The women complete in two types of gymnastics: Artistic and rythmic. The artistic portion of the competition includes the team competition, individual all-around, vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercises.

Balance Beam

Key move: A solid back handspring is key to tumbling passes.

Height: 4 ft.

Length: 16 ft.

Width: 4 in.

*

Uneven Bars

Key move: A strong cast to a handstand is the basis for many moves.

*

Vault

Key move: For vaults that start from a handspring, a consistent roundoff onto horse is crucial.

Height: 4 ft.

Length: 5 ft.

Width: 14 in.

*

Floor Exercise

Key move: A roundoff, back handspring creates acceleration and tempo needed for a complicated tumbling pass.

A. Roundoff

B. Takeoff

C. Pushoff

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