Zmeskal misses first place by 1,000th of point Miller consistent wins women's title


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

Or maybe it was first.

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

Or maybe it was silver.

And a kid 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.

Kim Zmeskal, the reigning world champion, won the two-dashowdown at the Baltimore Arena over challenger Shannon Miller by 1/1,000th of a point, but she finished behind Miller in the overall trials scoring, because it includes results from last month's U.S. championships.

Confused? Don't be. This was just the latest chapter in America's once-every-four-year gymnastics tug-of-war.

"We have created a monster," said Zmeskal's coach, Bela Karolyi. "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 camp in the south of France.

There, one final cut will be made before putting together a team of six competitors and one alternate for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

"There isn't a winner here," said U.S. Gymnastics Federation executive director Mike Jacki.

"The purpose of this event is to pick a team."

And what a team it could be, with a mixture of bright stars and steely veterans.

The other members of the training team:

Dominique Dawes, 15, of Silver Spring, a bright, bouncy tumbler trained in Gaithersburg by coach Kelli Hill.

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

Kim Kelly, 18, of King of Prussia, Pa., a Parkette's 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 and Michelle Campi, who were forced out of the trials because of injuries.

Okino, 17, born in Uganda and raised in Elmhust, Ill., is a 1991 World Championship silver medalist who is sidelined with stress fractures in her back.

Campi, 15, of Sacramento, Calif., sustained a fracture-dislocation her right elbow on the eve of the trials, but finished third in the all-around at last month's U.S. Championships in Columbus, Ohio.

When the 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.

But the focus was on the tumbling battle between Karolyi's Kid, Zmeskal, 16, and Miller, 15, the sport's newest star from Edmond, Okla.

Miller competed with a microscrew in her left elbow, which she dislocated 10 weeks ago in a training accident.

She appeared in the compulsories at last month's U.S. Nationals Columbus, Ohio, but skipped the optionals and watched as Zmeskal won.

The withdrawal would have stunning consequences.

Because of a weighted scoring system, Miller's Baltimore performance would account for 100 percent, while Zmeskal's accounted for 70 percent.

That's how Zmeskal could win in Baltimore, 79.057 to 79.056, but how Miller could win overall, 79.056 to 78.916.

"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."

Actually, it was Zmeskal, herself, who faltered. She opened the optional finals with a pair of 10s on the vault, but swayed slightly on the balance beam, opening the way for Miller.

"I'm not perfect," Zmeskal said.

Neither was Miller.

But with her lean lines and artistic style, she performed with a steely grace.

"I made the team," Miller 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, 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.' "

Or maybe it was Zmeskal's time, after all.

She did score those 10s. 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 the wobble on the 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.

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