Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Shannon Miller

(1977-)

America's most decorated gymnast, Shannon Lee Miller was born March 10, 1977 in Rolla, Missouri, U.S.A. She is the second of three children. Her parents, Claudia and Ron Miller, met while attending Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. The family moved to Edmond, Oklahoma, when Shannon was six months old, where her father accepted a position of a physics professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and her mother became a vice-president of a local bank.

When Shannon was four months old, her physician discovered that her legs were not growing properly. They were turning inward. He recommended that she wear a brace. She wore it for six months and her legs staightened out. As a toddler, Shannon was small but very active. She started taking ballet and dance classes at age four, because her older sister Tessa was taking them, too. Then Shannon convinced her parents to give her a trampoline for Christmas. The sisters spent all day bouncing on the trampoline and within two weeks, Shannon learned to do a front flip. Their parents were worried the girls might hurt themselves if they didn't have proper instruction, so they signed up both girls for classes at a local gymnastics center. Shannon enjoyed taking classes in gymnastics so much that her parents could use it as a leverage if she didn't do something right.

In summer of 1986, she went for two weeks to a training camp in the Soviet Union where she made a good impression on the Russian coaches. She was also noticed by Steve Nunno, who was there at the same time and who later became her trainer. Until then, she was doing gymnastics just for fun, but after returning from the Soviet Union and joining Nunno's team, the Dynamos, she began training in earnest. She also began competing at the local level. By the end of the season she won the class II state championship.

In 1987 her team took part in the USAIGC National Gymnastics Championship at the University of Delaware in Newark. Although Shannon fell off the balance beam during her performance, the television commentators declared that she was the one to watch in the future. Her team won third place. She placed second in the junior B division at the 1988 American Classic and won the all-around best gymnast in the children's division at the 1988 U.S. Classic. Shannon was improving steadily and was getting noticed. She was taking chances with difficult routines rather than playing it safe. In 1989 she won the junior division at the American Classic. A pulled hamstring kept her from gymnastics for a couple of months at the end of 1989. Then on February 17, 1990, she took part in the Peachtree Classic in Marieta, Georgia. Despite lack of preparation, she placed fourth overall. She was hoping to compete in the Goodwill Games, but she qualified only as an alternate. Her picture appeared on the cover of the January/February 1991 issue of theUSA Gymnastics magazine. She finished second in the American Classic and qualified for the 1991 U.S. Championships where she won first place on the beam and the floor exercises. She then won vault, beam and the floor competition at the Catania Cup in Sicily, Italy.

Despite her heavy training schedule, Shannon was an excellent student. She attended Summit Middle School where her grade point average was 4.0 and her favorite subject was algebra. Unlike other athletes preparing for the 1992 Olympics, Shannon did not take time off from school, nor did she lessen her school load while training for the Olympics. At that time she attended Edmond North High School and maintained her 4.0 average. She was also a member of Oklahoma and National Honor Societies. She continued living at home with her family. Her dad drove her to the gym early in the morning and they talked or she did her homework during those car trips.

In the 1991 World Championships, Shannon helped the U.S. team win a silver medal, finishing behind the Soviet Union and for the first time ahead of the Romanians. She finished fourth in individual competition, although in the 1991 U.S. Championships she had finished seventh. In December, Shannon paired up with Scott Keswick as the only American couple to take part in the Swiss Cup Mixed Pairs competition. Shannon scored her first perfect 10.0 on the balance beam, while her lowest score was 9.875 on the uneven bars. Scott also performed superbly and they captured the gold medal. Three days later, at the Arthur Gander Memorial in Montreaux, Switzerland, she received another 10.0 on the beam and another gold in the all-around.

About four months before the 1992 Olympics, Shannon dislocated her elbow and chipped a piece of bone during practice. She had surgery to re-attach the bone. She missed only one day of practice due to the procedure, although she wore a splint on her arm and couldn't do some routines for a while.

At the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, she was performing so well at the preliminaries, that a Unified (formerly Soviet) coach, Alexander Alexandrov, said of her: "You want to see ballet and beauty, Miller's got the classic style of the Soviet System. Her programs and aesthetics are the best on the U.S. team." The U.S. team took a bronze medal in women's gymnastics behind the Unified and Romanian teams. Shannon Miller won silver medals in all-around standings and for the balance beam, bronze in uneven bars and in the floor exercise. She won the most medals (five) of any U.S. athlete at the 1992 Olympics and tied Mary Lou Retton for the number of medals won by an American woman at any Olympiad. This was quite an achievement for her first Olympics. In thirteen out of sixteen routines, her score was 9.90 or above. Her lowest score was 9.75.

After Shannon's return to the States, she was honored at the White House by President Bush, while the U.S. Senate presented her with a resolution honoring her achievement at the Olympics. She appeared in many television interviews. Edmond, her hometown, welcomed her back with a parade in her honor. She also took part in two post-Olympic tours: the 1992 Gymnastics Spectacular and the 1992 Tour of Olympic and World Champion Gymnasts. She was voted the U.S. Olympic Committe's Female Gymnast of the Year. She won the Steve Reeves Fitness Award, being the first female to do so, the 1992 Nuprin Comeback Award, and was named the 1992 March of Dimes Sports Headliner of the Year for Oklahoma.

At the 1993 World Championships in Birmingham, England, Shannon won a gold medal for the all-around . She was the second American to accomplish this. Kim Zmeskal won it before her in 1991. She earned two more gold medals, one for parallel bars and another for the floor exercise. This was the highest number ever received at the World or Olympic competitions by a U.S. gymnast. As a result of this accomplishment, she was named the United States Olympic Committe's Sportswoman of the month for both March and April. In May 1993, she appeared on the covers of World of Gymnastics, Gym Stars, USA Gymnastics, and International Gymnast. She was also chosen as the U.S. Olympic Committee's Female Gymnast of the Year and one of the top ten Sports Women of the Year.

In 1994 she competed again in the World Championships which took place in Brisbane, Australia. Despite injuries, she won her second gold medal in the all-around. No American had done this before. She also won a gold medal in the balance beam. At the 1994 Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, she won two gold medals in the beam and the floor exercises and two silver medals in the all-around and on a vault.

Shannon graduated from high school in May 1995 with a 3.96 grade point average. She continued competing and preparing for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. At the Olympics she helped the US Women's Team earn a gold medal in team competition and she earned another gold medal in the balance beam. After the Olympics in Atlanta, Shannon joined the John Hancock Tour of World Gymnastics Champions.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1996.

Bibliography:
1. Shannon Miller. America's Most Decorated Gymnast by Krista Quiner, The Bradford Book Company, 1996

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