After strong start, Dawes and Miller floored by flaw Floor exercise errors move American pair from contention to tears

Atlanta Olympics

July 26, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The crowd at the Georgia Dome yesterday seemed ready for another eruption. American gymnasts Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller appeared poised to give most of the 32,200 fans, as well as President Clinton and his family, what they had come to see in the women's all-around competition at the 1996 Olympic Games.

It was what they had seen earlier this week, when Dawes and Miller helped the U.S. women to their first gold medal in Olympic team competition. With Dawes in first and Miller tied for second midway through yesterday's program, at worst it looked as if one was going to leave here with a medal.

Instead, these two 19-year-olds left only a trail of tears. In one of the most stunning collapses in recent Olympic memory, both Dawes and Miller fell within a few minutes of each other on the floor exercise. After Miller pitched forward and stepped off the mat, Dawes, a Gaithersburg, Md., native, stepped off the mat with both feet and then couldn't hold her balance.

It was the only flawed exercise for Dawes and Miller, but it was enough. With a 9.475 -- a score for which her coach, Steve Nunno, would file a protest -- Miller dropped to 10th place and eventually finished eighth. With a 9.0, Dawes free-fell to 20th and wound up tied for 17th. Dominique Moceanu, subbing for the injured Kerri Strug, started slowly, but managed to come in 10th.

"It was a little hard, because the same thing happened at two worlds [world championships]," said Dawes, still emotional two hours after the competition. "I guess I was able to deal with it then, so I can now."

But she couldn't, as the tears began to stream down her face and her voice choked, recalling the memory of the world championships in Birmingham, England, in 1993 and Brisbane, Australia, in 1994, when Dawes, on the verge of her first all-around title in international competition, fell each time on her vault.

"Dom's always had a little trouble when she has to do it for herself," Kelli Hill, who has coached Dawes since she was 6, said, pointing out that she usually excels in team competition -- as she had Tuesday night.

The mistakes by Miller and Dawes, as well as by Mo Huilan of China on the final floor routine of the day, opened the door for Lilia Podkopayeva.

The 17-year-old from Ukraine became the first reigning world champion to win the Olympic women's all-around since the legendary Ludmilla Tourischeva of the Soviet Union did it in 1972 in Munich, Germany. Tourischeva is a mentor to Podkopayeva.

Gina Gogean of Romania won the silver, while two of her teammates, Simone Amanar and Lavinia Milosovici, shared the bronze. Mo, who stepped off the mat in a similar tumbling pass made by Dawes, dropped from first to fifth with a 9.650, .018 away from a medal.

Asked if she enjoyed her personal payback after the U.S. victory here earlier this week, Podkopayeva giggled. "I guess you're right," said Podkopayeva, who claimed the title with the highest score of the night -- 9.887 -- in an amazing floor exercise routine. "As of right now, the Ukraine is the best."

The crucial mistake by Dawes came when she seemed on the verge of emerging as the quiet star of the competition, and possibly as its champion.

After compiling the second highest score behind Podkopayeva in Tuesday night's optionals, Dawes came out flying again yesterday.

A score of 9.812 on the uneven bars, her strongest event, placed her second to Russia's Rozalia Galiyeva after the opening rotation.

A 9.825 on the balance beam that featured four perfectly executed backflips on what has traditionally been her shakiest routine gave Dawes a slim lead over another Russian, Dina Kochetkova.

"I told her, 'Believe in it, you can do it,' " Hill, Dawes' longtime coach, recalled later.

Said Dawes: "I felt like I could do a strong set."

Through her first tumbling pass, it appeared Dawes would accomplish what she set out to do. But after completing a back somersault with a 2 1/2 twist, Dawes tried to adjust for her body being out of position, leading her feet nearly to the edge of the mat. As she tried to finish the move with a front somersault, her feet slipped out from under her and Dawes went off the mat.

The moment she finished the routine, Dawes broke down into tears, just as Miller had done minutes before.

The crowd grew quiet and then booed the score, but Hill said later that the mark was totally justified. Dawes finished out the competition with a modest 9.681 on the vault; Miller scored a 9.724.

"I guess I was hoping to redeem myself on the floor for the other night," said Miller, a former two-time world all-around champion. "I didn't have my best performance either night."

The errors by Dawes and Miller were certainly disastrous, but Moceanu's performance here was also disappointing after the way she had been hyped since becoming the youngest U.S. champion in history last summer.

After finishing 11th overall in the optionals, and fourth overall on her team, Moceanu needed Strug's badly sprained ankle to get her into the all-around.

Still hampered by the stress fracture in her right leg she suffered early last month, the 14-year-old from Houston nearly fell on her first routine, the balance beam, and never looked really sharp until she stuck a perfect landing on her vault.

Even then, the judges awarded her only a score of 9.706.

"We just didn't have one of our better days," said Moceanu, whose finish here might be motivation enough to keep her going until the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. "But we can't forget that we still have a gold medal."

Don't tell that to Dawes or Miller, who were reduced to tears after a flawed exercise yesterday at the Georgia Dome.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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