Miller, Dawes get redemption Americans bounce back with gold on beam, bronze on floor

Both were in tears Sunday

Miller's 7th medal is one shy of U.S. mark

Atlanta Olympics

July 30, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Shannon Miller wanted a gold and Dominique Dawes wanted respect.

Last night, these 19-year-olds reached out one last time to seize a bit of glory at the Summer Olympics. Tumbling across a four-inch tightrope, Miller claimed the gold in the balance beam. Dawes, of Gaithersburg, Md., showed she could withstand pressure and pulled out the bronze in floor exercise.

It was a magnificent finish for the American women, who sputtered in the past few days after claiming the team gold last week.

"We started with a gold medal. We got a little rocky in the middle. But we got some more medals," said Miller, America's most decorated female gymnast, who finished her Olympic career with seven medals, including five from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Among U.S. women in all Olympic sports, only swimmer Shirley Babashoff has more total medals, with eight.

Dawes, with two team medals in two Olympics, was simply looking for her first individual prize. And she got it, just in time.

"I thought I did a good job for the team," Dawes said. "But unfortunately, I didn't come through for myself until the very end."

This was it: the last stand at the Georgia Dome for the old reliables of the U.S. women's team. First up was Miller on the balance beam. She was trying to wipe away the tears from her previous individual performances here, when she tumbled out of bounds in the all-around floor exercise, and landed with a thud in the vault.

This time, she was nearly perfect, attacking the beam with a flourish, first landing three straight back flips on the beam, then sailing into a double back flip on her dismount, landing perfectly, and gaining a score of 9.862. Lilia Podkopayeva, of Ukraine, the all-around champion, took the silver, and Romania's Gina Gogean claimed the bronze.

"I finally hit the routine I knew I could," Miller said moments after the victory ceremony. "Anytime is a good time to be best at something," she said. "This was my chance to redeem myself."

Dawes also had this one last moment. She gained her place in the floor exercise final when Kerri Strug, the heroine of the team competition, was forced to withdraw with a damaged left ankle.

Dawes made the most of the opening. Wearing a red leotard and performing to a Russian folk dance, she captivated the throng at the Georgia Dome, the camera flashes flickering by the thousands as she made one magnificent pass after another.

The judges gave her a score of 9.837, good enough for third behind gold medalist Podkopayeva and silver medalist Simona Amanar of Romania.

The performance was especially satisfying for Dawes because it was on the floor exercise where she stepped out of bounds and out of contention during the all-around. "The routine went very well," she said. "I wanted to do better. I wanted to show the world what I could do.

"I did have something to prove, not just to myself, but to the people in the stands," she added.

Four years ago in Barcelona, Dawes came away with a team bronze, and was unsure how long she could continue her career.

"After Barcelona, I could have never dreamed of being in another Olympics," Dawes said. "And I would have never dreamed that I could get into an individual final."

But Dawes survived. And so did Miller. The veterans got their final medals in what was likely their final Olympic appearances.

They'll hit the road for an exhibition tour. And then they both plan to go to college, Dawes to Stanford and Miller to Oklahoma.

What's it like to go out on top?

"It's kind of a relief," Dawes said. "I'm going to miss the sport."

"It's greater than anything," added Miller. "It's a happy way to end my career."

Miller becomes the only American woman gymnast to win an individual gold medal at a fully-attended Olympics. She is a two-time world champion, a two-time national champion and a former world champ on beam, uneven bars and floor exercise.

When asked if Miller was the greatest American gymnast of all time, her principal coach, Steve Nunno, didn't hesitate. "Absolutely," he said. "Nobody can deny her that, not after tonight."

The third American competitor, little Dominique Moceanu, also survived last night, but won no medals for her effort.

Moceanu suffered a stunning fall against the balance beam, landing on her head as she came out of a flip but still managing to grab the beam and stay aboard.

Then, despite a playful, athletic floor exercise, her high score (9.825) wasn't quite good enough to medal. She finished fourth, just 12-thousandths of a point behind Dawes.

"I did my best . . . but it didn't work out," said Moceanu, who at 14 is America's youngest Olympic gymnast and will likely return in future Games. "That's life -- what can you do?"

Miller's medals

After winning five medals in the 1992 Games but missing a gold, Shannon Miller has won two golds in these Olympics:

1992 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Medal

Balance beam .. .. .. .. .. .Silver

Ind. all-around .. .. .. .. .Silver

Uneven bars .. .... .. .. ...Bronze

Floor exercise .. .. .. .. ..Bronze

Team .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...Bronze

1996 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Medal

Team .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Gold

Balance beam .. .. .. .. .. ...Gold

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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