Miller edges Zmeskal for title amid controversy World champ wins here, loses overall

A brittle 15-year-old tumbler from the dusty plains of Oklahoma struck gold inside the Baltimore Arena.

A world champion raised in a humid Houston gym scored two perfect 10s and finished second.


And a 15-year-old from Silver Spring vaulted from beyond the Capital Beltway to the big-time.

The 1992 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials for women ended amid glitter and controversy yesterday.


The winner, with the help of a microscrew in her elbow and a loophole in the scoring system, was Shannon Miller, a 4-foot-7, 71-pound wisp from Edmond, Okla.

Kim Zmeskal, the reigning world champion and star pupil of the Bela Karolyi stable, was second, despite her 10s on the vault.

Dominique Dawes, nurtured in an out-of-the-way gym tucked in the Washington suburbs, was fourth.

And the sport, as usual, was in its once-every-four-years state of confusion.

"We have created a monster," Karolyi said. "It is going to punish us all the way to the Olympic Games."

Oh, that's right, the Olympics.

These made-for-television trials were a semifinals, with eight gymnasts selected for a training camps in Tampa, Fla., and the south of France. Eventually, one final cut will be made before a team of six competitors and one alternate is assembled for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

"There isn't a winner here," U.S. Gymnastics Federation executive director Mike Jacki said. "The purpose of this event is to pick a team."


Confused? Join the crowd.

America's first-ever world champion, Zmeskal, was beaten on a technicality.

She won last month's U.S. championships in Columbus, Ohio. She even beat Miller by 1/1000th of a point at the two-day trials in Baltimore.

And she lost.

The reason: a Byzantine selection process and scoring system.

Normally, results from the championships (30 percent) and trials (70 percent) are combined. But because she made only a cameo appearance in the U.S. championships, Miller's Baltimore score was worth 100 percent, giving her a 79.056-to-78.916 triumph over Zmeskal.


"In Siberia, in Africa, this would not happen," Karolyi said. "This is not patriotism. This is the only world champion this country has ever had. People would kill you in another country if you tried to diminish a national champion this way."

Steve Nunno, Miller's coach, countered: "There is only one person [Karolyi] who has problems dealing with anything. If there isn't a controversy, it's not a meet. Shannon proved that she is the best, to everyone."

Almost lost in this battle of egos and computer printouts were the kids.

When the tiniest survivors were paraded onto the floor, they bore smiles, flowers and hopes.

"This means that 9 1/2 years of work are worthwhile," Dawes said.

The other training team members:


Kerri Strug, 14, of Tucson, Ariz., the daughter of a heart surgeon and a member of Karolyi's training camp.

Kim Kelly, 18, of King of Prussia, Pa., a Parkettes protege who is bound for the University of Alabama in the fall.

Wendy Bruce, 19, of North Lauderdale, Fla., the oldest competitor, a scrapper who battled injuries and financial hardship to continue her career.

Also receiving passes to the training camp were Betty Okino, 17, of Elmhurst, Ill., and Michelle Campi, 15, of Sacramento, Calif., injured and out of the trials, yet, when healthy, among the best in America.

But the focus was on the battle between Zmeskal, the gymnast with the legs of a running back, and Miller, the dancer who competed with the patched-together left elbow, which she dislocated 10 weeks ago in a training accident.

In the end, Miller was better in Thursday night's compulsories. Zmeskal shined in yesterday's optionals.


With her lean lines and artistic style, Miller performed with a steely grace.

"I made the team," she said. "I won. But I didn't come here to beat any one person."

Still, a victory over Zmeskal, even one based on a technicality, was astonishing. Miller's scores of 9.787 in the vault, 9.937 on the uneven bars, 9.900 on the balance beam, and 9.762 on the floor exercise, despite a mandatory 1/10th deduction for stepping on the sideline, were a model of consistency.

"When we got to the airport in Baltimore, Shannon's watch stopped," Miller's coach Steve Nunno said. "I said to her, 'You don't need to know what time it is. It's Miller time.' "

For awhile, it looked like ZmeskalTime, too.

Zmeskal did score those 10s on the vault. Blew the doors off the Arena with a floor exercise routine to score a 9.950. And took a 9.812 on the bars. It was only a wobble on the balance beam, and her score of 9.737, that kept her from winning the Trials.


"I made some mistakes that I shouldn't have, and it came out in the end," Zmeskal said.

-! To be continued in Barcelona.