Miller captures gold Dawes takes bronze

U.S. breaks through in individual events

Atlanta Olympics

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

ATLANTA -- It was gold for Shannon Miller and bronze for Dominique Dawes, of Gaithersburg, Md., last night, as the U.S. women's gymnastics' team finally claimed some individual medals at the Summer Olympics.

Tumbling across a four-inch tightrope, Miller, the 19-year-old from Edmond, Okla., secured the gold on the balance beam.

And Dawes brushed aside days of dejection, with a passionate and confident performance to claim the bronze in floor exercise.

"There's been a lot of disappointment, but I think I'm satisfied," she said of her gymnastics career. "I've learned a lot."

It was a fitting end for American gymnasts, who claimed the team title but then sputtered in the individual events.

"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.

On the sidelines last night was Kerri Strug, who helped the Americans to gold and glory by taking that one last dramatic vault on a damaged left ankle in the team competition last week. With Strug out, Dawes got her chance to perform on the floor exercise.

Dawes, wearing red and performing to a Russian folk tune, thrilled the crowd, pleased the judges, and claimed her first individual Olympic medal.

Lilia Podkopayeva, of Ukraine, the all-around champion, won the floor exercise gold. Simona Amanar, of Romania, claimed the silver.

But the night really belonged to Miller, who wiped away the bobbles and tears from previous performances, to claim the first individual gold of her career.

"It feels great," Miller said. "It's a great note to end on. This was my chance to redeem myself."

The pressure on Miller to produce was intense after her previous, tear-stained failures. In the all-around floor exercise, she tumbled out of bounds. And in the individual vault, she fell on the mat.

The thought of ending a decade-long gymnastics career in embarrassed tears was something Miller said motivated her last night.

Miller was under even greater pressure as America's other bright medal hope on the beam, 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu, crash-landed on her head after slipping on a fourth straight back flip as thousands of camera flashes cast a blinding light. Moceanu refused to be knocked out, though, finishing sixth with a score of 9.125.

Miller then performed with effortless grace on the beam, using a forceful landing to punctuate a confident performance.

"It was one of the best beam routines I have ever done in my life," she said.

When she landed for a final time in Olympic competition, the Georgia Dome crowd of 32,573 roared and waved tiny American flags. Dawes, who was getting ready to compete in the floor exercise final, ran over to give her a hug.

Then, Miller and the fans waited out the verdict of the judges. She received a score of 9.862. Good enough for a medal, but was it good enough for gold?

In the end, it was. Miller's rivals all had slight bobbles. Podkopayeva, of Ukraine, was second at 9.825. Romania's Gina Gogean claimed the bronze.

"Shannon worked four years for that one routine," said Peggy Luddick, who helps coach Miller.

"Earlier in the competition, she just wasn't used to being not at her best," Luddick added. "She felt she was disappointing us and that was not the case. When she fell in the vault, she said, 'Sorry.' "

But last night Miller made no apologies. She just won.

Asked if this would be the end of her career, Miller said she would "think about it," although she is due to go on a national tour after the Olypics.

Is she the best U.S. gymnast ever?

"I don't have an opinion on it," she said. "I go out and try to do the best I can."

And last night, the best was golden.

"It was just fantastic to hit a routine that I had practiced every day," she said. "I'm just so excited."

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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