Michele Wiles won a gold medal last week without setting foot in Atlanta, the site of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
The 16-year-old Pasadena native defeated 260 other dancers from around the world to capture first-class distinction in the juniors division at the 17th International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. She became the first American in 13 years to win a gold at the prestigious contest.
Monday night, about 50 relatives, friends, and admirers gathered at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to welcome her home. Cheering loudly, they waved banners proclaiming "WAY TO GO, MICHELE" and "MICHELE, OUR FAVORITE BALLERINA" as she stepped off the jet way.
"I'm very surprised," Michele said as she tried to juggle an assortment of bouquets, balloons, and cards. "I didn't expect this at all."
Michele is no stranger to success. She is a straight-A student at Washington's Kirov Academy of Ballet. She has performed with the Joffrey Ballet in New York City and the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Last February, Michele won a bronze medal at the 2nd Annual International Ballet and Modern Dance Competition in Nagoya, Japan. But the talent pool in the Bulgarian contest was tougher and worried her coach, Vladimir Djouloukhadze.
"Of course I believed in her, but with the competition there, you can't say that with 100 percent," Djouloukhadze said.
Even Michele was realistic about her chances.
"I just wanted to do well," she said. "I wanted to make it past all three rounds and get into the finals."
Michele did just that and last Thursday, she and four other dancers vied for the three medals. Djouloukhadze said Michele danced six classical and two contemporary variations -- four more than what was required in Japan.
But the judges could not agree on the winners and locked themselves in a hotel room for hours. It wasn't until 4 a.m. Friday that Djouloukhadze and Michele's father, Larry Wiles, saw a judge post the results on a window in the hotel lobby.
"Me and Vladimir hugged and shook hands," Wiles recalled. "I was so excited."
Michele was sound asleep when her father woke her up and told her the good news.
"I was excited, too," she said. "Then, I fell asleep."
The last American to win a gold medal at the competition, which is considered a stepping stone to international renown, was Katryn Helly, the 1983 champion. Previous winners include Mikhail Baryshnikov (1966)."
"I feel proud because no [American] had done it for so long," Michele said. "I worked so hard for this."
Michele said the rest of her summer will be spent at Ocean City -- "just chillin'" -- which is just what her mother has ordered.
"She works hard," Janet Wiles said. "She deserves a vacation."
Pub Date: 7/31/96