BARCELONA, Spain -- Dominique Dawes placed the bronze medal in her sweat suit pocket, and clutched the bouquet of white roses in her tiny hands.
She had traveled the longest road in the world of gymnastics, from a converted game room at a Best Western on the outskirts of the Capital Beltway in Maryland, to the third-place team podium at the 1992 Summer Olympics.
"I can't believe this has happened," said Dawes, 15, of Silver Spring, Md. "I'm really excited."
Dawes didn't make the all-around final, but it didn't matter. Only three Americans advanced to tomorrow's individual showdown for the gold, and Dawes was fifth best in the U.S., 26th best in the world.
Not bad for a tumbler with tendinitis in her right ankle and a pulled muscle in her left shoulder.
"I had to overcome a lot," she said. Dawes began her career with Hill's Gymnastics in Wheaton, Md. She worked out for seven years in a game room built over a parking garage at
tached to a motel. And she has stayed with the only coach she has ever known, Kelli Hill.
In the biggest meet of her life, Dawes performed superbly. She performed early in each American rotation, building the scores to set up the stars like Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller and Betty Okino.
A bobble on the balance beam cost her a chance at the all-around. But her floor exercise routine drew the loudest applause of the evening.
Dawes and Okino became the first black Americans to win Olympic gymnastics medals. But Dawes played down the historic footnote.
"I'm just a gymnast," she said.
Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring, Md., was edged out of a spot in the women's gymnastics all-around competition. Her scores from yesterday's team optional finals:
Event.... .... .... Score
Uneven bars... .... 9.812
Floor exercise .... 9.925
Balance beam.. .... 9.637
Vault.... .... .... 9.900