HER STAR SHINES ON Olympic medalist Miller headlines gymnastics tour


After she won five Olympic gymnastics medals, hired an agent, received a car, led a hometown parade viewed by 15,000, ate hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches inside the White House and appeared on TV's "Regis and Kathie Lee," you would think that 15-year-old Shannon Miller would be overwhelmed.

You would be wrong.

On the whole, Edmond, Oklahoma's most famous teen-ager said the summer has been, well, "neat."

"I'm proud of everything I've done," Miller said.

And why not? Almost overnight, Miller was transformed from a little-known ponytailed tumbler into an international star.

Miller didn't win a gold medal at the Summer Games of Barcelona, Spain, but she won a handful of silvers and bronzes, becoming America's most decorated Olympian of 1992. Now, she's headlining an exhibition featuring American and international stars.

The tour comes to the Baltimore Arena tonight at 7:30 and the Capital Centre in Landover, tomorrow at 2 p.m.

While she's in the area, Miller will even find time to film a television commercial with basketball star Patrick Ewing.

Anyone for Trivial Pursuit?

This tour could provide a gauge of Miller's popularity. Among those to appear are Olympic men's all-around champion Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus, men's high bar gold medalist Trent Dimas of Albuquerque, N.M., and Olympic old-timers Nadia Comaneci and Bart Connor.

A couple of local performers will be returning to Baltimore, site of the 1992 U.S. trials. Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring, a member of the U.S. bronze-medal winning women's team, and Jair Lynch, the Washington native who got his start training in Columbia, have joined the tour.

And, of course, Kim Zmeskal is scheduled to perform. Six months ago, Zmeskal was the American teen-ager most likely to come away from Barcelona a star. She was the latest in the long line of prodigies produced by coach Bela Karolyi. But after a slip off the balance beam and a thud on a vault dismount, Zmeskal found herself overshadowed by a younger, even lighter competitor -- Miller.

Miller left Barcelona with the all-around silver, the team bronze, a silver on the balance beam and bronzes for the floor exercise and uneven bars.

The medals are now tucked safely away in her bedroom.

"I'm proud of all of them," she said. "But I'd have to say, it's the all-around medal that I'm most proud of."

Although Miller lost the all-around gold to Tatiana Gutsu of Ukraine by the narrowest of margins -- a 10 on the final vault would have given her the title -- she still emerged as the most decorated U.S. gymnast in Olympic history.

Miller's homecoming to Edmond, a town outside of Oklahoma City, was tumultuous. She was greeted by 4,000 fans at an airport reception. Later, the sidewalks were clogged as Miller led a parade. She gave a speech and received a prize from a local auto dealer -- a new Saturn sports coupe.

Not bad for a kid who still must take a driver's education class before receiving her learner's permit.

After the Games, Miller actually took three days off from her daily 6 1/2 -hour training sessions, which is two days longer than she needed to recover from surgery in April to reattach a bone chip in her left elbow.

She visited the White House with the other U.S. Olympians and met President Bush. She even made a television appearance with Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford. After performing a few flips, she spotted for Philbin and dropped him on his back.

"Looking back, everything went so fast," Miller said. "It seemed like I had the injury, and it healed, and I went to the Olympics."

For Miller, the Olympic experience was mostly practice and competition. But she did find time to meet the Dream Team, getting autographs and encouragement from Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.

"Charles Barkley told me not to take all of this too seriously," Miller said. "Magic wanted to know if we had seen him at the gymnastics competition. And Larry Bird said to me, 'What, only five medals?' "

Yet those five medals could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to Miller, according to her agent.

The 1992 Olympics didn't produce any superstars like a Mary Lou Retton, ready to sweep through Madison Avenue collecting endorsements and commercials. But a few smaller stars were created, and among this group, Miller is arguably the brightest.

"For most people, Shannon came from nowhere," said Miller's agent, Jerry Solomon, the president of ProServ. "And the public likes that."

While Miller will try to remain in the sport through the 1996 Atlanta Games, the push is already on to market her to America. Her deal with Trivial Pursuit is a start. Solomon said Miller is a natural for products related to kids.

"Shannon is not going to be another Michael Jordan," he said. "Then, there aren't a lot of Jordans anyway. But she comes across well. And, obviously, she is very nice."

But there is a toughness that lies beneath the surface. Shy during interviews, she is spectacular on her routines, putting aside aches and pains that would slow even football players, to bend, twist and soar in a bid for 10s.

Already, she is learning the compulsory routines for the 1996 Games.

"You've got to plan out a career," said Miller's coach, Steve Nunno. "Shannon still hasn't won the American Cup and still hasn't won the U.S. Championships. She'd like to do those things. She'd like to win the all-around world championships next year. When you have a 15-year-old who has reached a high level of success, it's still possible to go further. If anyone can go to back-to-back Olympics, Shannon can."

But before reaching Atlanta, Miller must still overcome some formidable hurdles. Her 10th-grade classes at Edmond North Mid High School begin next week, and Miller has a full schedule that includes honors courses in biology, algebra, English and world history.

Can she be just another student?

"I'd like to be," she said. "But I don't know if that will work out. People really love gymnastics around here."

Facts and figures

What: 1992 Gymnastics Spectacular

Where: Baltimore Arena and Capital Centre

When: Arena, tonight, 7:30; Capital Centre, tomorrow, 2 p.m.

Tickets: $25, $20, $15, ($4 off groups of 20 or more)

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