Dawes goes on the fly in gymnastics scene

January 21, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

GAITHERSBURG — If this current cold wave drags on any longer and the local utilities continue to experience power drains, they'd be well-advised to hook up a couple of generators to the super-charged Dominique Dawes.

Sure, at 4 feet 11 and 88 pounds, there's not a lot of Dawes, but what there is of her is always moving, always flexing, always stretching for the next task.

Even as she's sitting for an interview, Dawes, one of America's premier gymnasts and a local favorite in Sunday's Reese's World Gymnastics Cup at the Baltimore Arena, is using the arms of the chair as parallel bars to levitate herself above the chair's surface.

"I don't know what it is," said Kelli Hill, Dawes' coach. "That's a nervous habit. She feels she has to stretch. It's one of those

things."

Nervous? What on earth could this 17-year-old dynamo have to be nervous about? After all, Dawes is ranked fourth in the world after her performance in the 1993 world championships in Birmingham, England, and shared a bronze medal with the American gymnastics team at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Dawes placed second in the 1993 national championships, winning individual competitions in the vault and the balance beam.

Her rise through the national and international ranks has been consistent since she burst on the scene in 1988, but Hill, her coach for the past 11 years, wishes that she would appreciate just how special a talent she has.

"It [lack of arrogance] makes her better in a lot of ways, and it makes her adorable," Hill said.

"She's not all caught up in it, but on the other hand, there's this flip side that I don't think she ever has the confidence in herself that maybe could be there if she'd grow her head a little bit. There's no cockiness there at all. None."

Dawes' apparent lack of confidence stands in stark contrast to the record of gritty and courageous choices she already has made.

For one, Dawes, who has a 3.66 grade-point average, is taking on a taxing course load at Gaithersburg High that includes physics, trigonometry, pre-calculus and honors English, in addition to five hours of training every weekday and additional training hours on weekends.

Plus, Dawes, who is black, has chosen a field where there are few like her, though she will be joined this weekend by Betty Okino, who was also a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

Dawes says she does not consider herself a role model for younger black girls who might want to venture into gymnastics, but acknowledges that she has become something of a symbol.

"I just think of myself as another gymnast out there, but sometimes, fans will write me and say, 'Wow, you're a black gymnast, and I've never seen that before. I really want to do that,' " Dawes said.

Then, there's the decision three years ago to move out of her parents' home in Silver Spring and settle in here with Hill, her husband and their two children for a more disciplined training regimen.

The move almost certainly has helped catapult Dawes into the gymnastics stratosphere, but hasn't been without cost.

"I look at her as family because I've known her since she was 6 years old. We've spent 30-40 hours a week every week in the gym," Hill said. "On the other hand, I'm a demanding and tough coach. There have been special moments for me with her when she's either been thrilled and jumped up and given me a big hug, or when she's been crying and come to me.

"Those are moments for me that nobody can ever replace, but it's not like my own kids. Even though she's family, it's not like a mother-daughter relationship."

"Kelli and Dom are very, very close," said Kathy Kelly, women's program director for USA Gymnastics. "They have a wonderful coach-athlete rapport and a genuine caring for each other. That supersedes their involvement in the sport, and I'm sure will last a lifetime."

And then there's the matter of money. Sunday's competition is Dawes' entree to the professional world, and there will be a chance for her to earn $2,000 for each of three events and another $2,000 for the all-around title.

Although Dawes can accept prize money and retain her eligibility for future Olympics, she will forfeit any winnings this weekend to retain her collegiate eligibility.

Dawes also has turned aside any endorsement offers, for fear of running afoul of the NCAA before she enters college next year. Hill said Dawes' seemingly innocuous appearance in an ad for leotards on the back of a gymnastics magazine this month has drawn questions from colleges about her eligibility.

""It's not being fair in terms of the athletes," Hill said. "She has taken no money. She's just promoting our national sponsor. It's not going to harm her eligibility, because we did nothing wrong, but we have to be very careful."

Hill and Dawes are also being extremely careful about the gymnast's future.

RF Their plan is to prepare for the individual world championships in

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