Dawes balances her moves Gymnast: Olympian is pursuing new routines from Broadway to a music video to a world champions tour.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's a moment that Dominique Dawes will not allow to haunt her. So Dawes will tell you there's really no need to watch the tapes of her all-around floor exercise from the 1996 Olympics. No need to reflect on the moment when, with the gold medal within her grasp, she stepped out of bounds. No need to shed any more tears than were shed that night, a night when many cried along with her.

"There's no need to watch something that I already did. I saw it, I was there," Dawes said last week. "I don't sit around and reflect on that. It's behind me. I'm focusing on the things that are ahead of me."

Since the Games, Dawes has had a lot to focus on. She has appeared on Broadway, playing the role of the cheerleader Patty Simcox in the musical "Grease." She has rubbed elbows with designer Tommy Hilfiger, standing by his side in New York as he unveiled his Tommy Girl fragrance. And Dawes appeared in a music video of The Artist (the singer formerly known as Prince), who issued a personal invitation to the Silver Spring native.

Tonight, the focus for the three-time Olympic medalist will be on something that she does best -- gymnastics. Dawes will appear at Baltimore Arena in the John Hancock Tour of World Gymnastics Champions. It's the 11th stop in a 23-city tour.

"This is great, because this allows us to really get to know each other, to know each other's personalities," Dawes said. "At the Olympics, we were physically close, but at the same time, we had a job to focus on and we were never really able to get that close. Now, we can go out, relax, have fun and learn about the likes and dislikes of each other outside of gymnastics."

This tour has some familiar faces from the Olympics (Kerri Strug, who is on a separate tour, is the most noticeable exception), but it's an exhibition -- not a competition. And that suits Dawes just fine after the tension she experienced before the Olympics and in Atlanta once the Games began.

"There was a lot of pressure on all of us and because the Olympics are so tense, I don't think any of us were our natural selves," Dawes said. "When it was finally over, it was like there were 3 million people who were finally off of our backs."

The first memory of Dawes as an Olympian is that of a diminutive, squeaky-voiced 14-year-old in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, but it was a mature Dawes that sent more than a few hearts fluttering during the Atlanta Games.

Olympic boxer Rhoshii Wells, who was hoping to meet Dawes, was disappointed when he found the women's gymnastics team wasn't staying in the Olympic Village. He went public with his plea to meet Dawes, telling reporters: "Y'all in the media need to hook that up for me. Somebody get the message to her I want to meet her."

Dawes, who never got a chance to meet Wells, offers a shy laugh when asked how she feels to be admired in that way.

"I guess I'm finally growing up. I guess I'm looking different," Dawes said. "I never got that type of attention in school. But it doesn't bother me at all. Actually, I'm flattered that someone wanted to meet me."

And Dawes is definitely in demand, perhaps the most visible member of the women's gymnastics team since the Games ended. While Strug has been seen in goofy ESPN ads, Dawes has appeared in advertisements for Kodak (one ad pictures her alongside former Olympians Jesse Owens, Nadia Comaneci and Magic Johnson), and has signed deals with Champion athletic wear, AT&T; and the U.S. Postal Service.

"The shelf life of Olympic athletes is short, and if they don't see things happening within a month after the Games, chances are they won't," said Nova Lanktree, a Chicago-based sports talent broker. "With Dominique, I think there's good potential there. Dominique's potential is the fact that she made such a wonderful presence during the Olympics. She has managed to stay public."

But her representatives don't want her to be too public. So when The Artist came calling, seeking Dawes to appear in his video "Betcha By Golly Wow," her agent at ProServ believed his sometimes-provocative style might be a bit much for the wholesome image he wanted to project for his client.

"I definitely had some reservations about putting her with The Artist, because of the things I had seen in the past," agent David Carrodine said. "But after talking to several people, I came to realize that he wouldn't do anything to hurt her image. The video was very tastefully done, and it really showcased her natural beauty."

And Dawes was excited working with a performer she had admired since she was a little girl.

"I can remember me and my sister getting up and singing and dancing to his songs," Dawes said. "So it was cool to get out there and be included in his video. He was real down-to-earth and cool."

At one point during the shoot, Dawes told The Artist that she liked the glitter he had in his hair.

"He said that he got it from me, and I was surprised," Dawes said. "I had worn it before in competitions, so I guess he noticed."

And Dawes was noticed when she made a post-Olympics appearance on the David Letterman show -- and mentioned that she wanted to major in drama in school. That led to an invitation to audition for "Grease." She won the part and performed in the show in December.

"I had six days to rehearse, and they were pretty hard in trying to get down the character that I was playing," Dawes said. "There was singing, dancing and I did some gymnastics. I was nervous, but it was a really exciting experience. I've been interested in drama for a while."

Dawes was a smart enough student to earn a scholarship to Stanford, and she may have ended up there two years ago had she not gotten sidetracked by the Atlanta Olympics. Dawes, who has attended classes at the University of Maryland, said she is not sure where she will attend college.

But starting in the fall, Dawes is likely to make the transition from famous athlete to college student. But she'll always have something that will set her apart -- three Olympic medals that are tucked away in their boxes.

"I haven't looked at them that often. I took them out for one of the few times on Broadway because everyone was really interested in seeing them," Dawes said. "It was kind of cool for them to be in awe of them. But for me, I don't need to look at them much. Maybe when I'm older, but now I'm just looking forward to moving on with my life."

Pub Date: 1/20/97

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