BARCELONA SPAIN — BARCELONA, Spain -- Steve Nunno opened a tiny gym in Oklahoma City seven years ago, with 11 students, second-hand equipment and the goal of creating an Olympic champion.
Last night, his dream almost came true. When Shannon Miller of the United States won the silver medal in the women's all-around final at the 1992 Summer Olympics, she didn't just gather fame for herself, she helped elevate a coach to the top of American gymnastics.
Nunno became the first American-born coach of the top American-born performer since Bela Karolyi began creating tiny titlists in his Houston gymnasium. And now, with Karolyi announcing his retirement from competitive coaching, Nunno is poised to lead the U.S. program to the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
"It's a changing of the guard," said Nunno, 34. "Bela has told everyone he has retired. It's sad, but it's also jubilant in that he contributed to U.S. gymnastics."
Nunno and Karolyi are roommates in the Olympic Village, and the night before the women's final, the young coach from Burlington, Mass., and the old coach from Romania discussed their career plans.
"Bela said, 'I'm handing you the reins,' " Nunno said.
Karolyi helped give Nunno a start, hiring him for nine months in 1983. Nunno, a former gymnast at the University of Massachusetts, then worked at the University of Oklahoma before setting up his gym. Now, he has more than 1,000 gymnasts, with an elite squad of 120. Miller may be his best gymnast, but Nunno said others are in the pipeline being readied for Atlanta.
"The day I got to Bela's gym, I knew why he was successful and others were not," Nunno said. "He worked harder than anyone. There is a level you can push an athlete to. There is also a level you can push yourself, too."
Together, the coach and gymnast worked to create an Olympi career. And now Miller said she will try to stay in the sport until the 1996 Games. By then, Nunno could be the Karolyi of his generation, the coach who dominates a gymnastics era.