All of gymnast Miller's strengths come through Her focus, superb skills boost U.S. gold chances

Atlanta Olympics

July 23, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- Her routine complete, U.S. gymnast Shannon Miller walked off the mat to a roar from the crowd. Her coach bounded toward her, wearing a huge smile. But Miller's smile was purposeful, her look serious. She seemed immune to all the commotion.

Near the team's bench, Steve Nunno, Miller's coach, grabbed her shoulders, embracing her, then offered a catalog of encouragement. So excited was Nunno, he shook Miller's small body as he talked.

She looked into his eyes, nodding. Her lips remained tight. Her smile didn't return until the day's competition was over.

"Sometimes, she takes criticism because she is so focused," Nunno said after Sunday's competition, "but when she is really at her best, physically and emotionally, she has a sparkle in her eye."

She had a sparkle in her eye after Sunday's compulsories, helping lift the U.S. women's team to second place overall, just .127 of a point behind the Russians. Miller's overall score of 39.061 was second-best behind Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine (39.149).

Tonight, the U.S. women will compete in the optional round, seeking their first team gold medal. Miller, likely to qualify for the all-around competition, so far has managed to push the more acclaimed Dominique Moceanu, the 14-year-old prodigy on the American team, into the background.

It's a place where Miller, 19, has spent a lot of time herself.

But despite a history of being underappreciated, "Shannon Miller never feels pushed aside," Nunno said. "She never feels forgotten. She feels very happy for the things she has.

"She is very down-to-earth like that. This is not about publicity; this is about goal achievement. If everybody else is proud of her, she likes that, but she doesn't seek that."

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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