Volume 4, Issue 1 University of Houston
Gymnast Shannon Miller competes at Reese's Cup
By Wendy Williamson
Shannon Miller, the most decorated American gymnast in history, performed the last routine of her career Dec. 1 at Hofheinz Pavilion.
The 2001 Reese's Gymnastics Cup attracted almost 5,000 fans from the Houston area and displayed gymnastic superstars from around the world including Houston's own Sean Townsend and Steve McCain.
"It was a great way to end (my gymnastics career)," Miller said, after earning a perfect score for her final performance, a balance beam routine to "God Bless the USA."
Miller received a standing ovation, the night's only one, for her stoic performance on her forte apparatus, the balance beam, for which she won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Miller said she liked the song and wanted to perform to it, and that it seemed more appropriate now following Sept. 11 events.
Shannon Miller performs the last balance beam routine of her illustrious career.
"It was an emotional time for me and a lot of people," Miller said. "I could hear kids in the audience singing to the music, but I had to concentrate on the routine and not let the emotion get to me."
The format of the meet was different than typical gymnastics competitions. Athletes competed in pairs comprised of one female and one male to make a total of eight teams. Each athlete competed in two of three events available for the competition. Men chose from floor exercise, parallel bars and the high bar while women chose from uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.
The scoring was based on difficulty, originality, presentation and audience appeal. Five celebrity judges made up the panel and each one scored on a 10-point scale; each score was added together to determine the score on the event.
Bob Colarossi, president of USA Gymnastics, the host of the meet, said that USAG chose UH for this year's cup because of Houston's rich market for gymnastics and other sports.
"Some of (USAG's) great athletes train here," Colarossi said.
Colarossi also said the Reese's Cup meet allows the athletes to come out and show their personality. "It lets them come out of that box that gymnastics is always putting them in."
And the fans definitely witnessed some show-stopping performances from a field of superstars. Russian Alexei Nemov, dubbed "Sexy Alexei" in the 1992 Olympic Games, performed a floor routine to Bon Jovi's "Young Guns" wearing jeans, a vest and a hat -- and finishing with just the blue jeans.
Other crowd pleasers included John Macready, a 1996 Olympian, performing a "baby" high bar routine dressed in a diaper and bonnet; Townsend's "Popeye" in a full sailor suit on parallel bars; U.S. Olympian Jamie Dantzcher's Texas theme in ripped blue jeans shorts, hat and pig tails on uneven bars; and two-time U.S. Olympian Lance Ringnald's "Scooby Doo" floor routine, for which he tumbled in full costume.
The team of Bulgarian Jordan Jovtchev and Olympian and 2001 U.S. Champion Tasha Schwikert won the event with a total of 199.10. Miller and Ringnald, her partner, earned sixth place with 196.90.
Several other competitors performed routines to American themes. Chari Knight-Hunter, a former Oregon State gymnast and National Team member, performed a beam routine to "God Bless America," drawing the letters "DC" and "NY" with white chalk on the floor mats.
Macready performed to a medley of American songs wearing camouflage pants and face paint. John Rothlisberger, 31, a gymnastics legend, performed a floor routine dressed in an American flag vest, red, white and blue shorts and a red bandana. Even his knee brace from a former ACL injury was painted in red and white stripes and white stars.
Macready was the only athlete of the night to receive two perfect 10s for his performances.
The judges were not only gymnastics stars of the past and present, but other athletes as well. They included the Houston Comets' Sheryl Swoopes, legendary U.S. gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi of Huntsville, '96 Olympic champion Dominique Moceanu of Spring, '92 Olympian Kim Zemeskal of Houston and '96 and 2000 Olympian Blaine Wilson of Columbus, Ohio, who is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Swoopes, whose 4-year-old son is in gymnastics, said she watched gymnastics on television, but does not know much about the sport.
"I didn't study up on (gymnastics) terms to prepare for judging," Swoopes said. "I decided that I'm not going to pay attention to other judges' scores; just when I see a good flip, I'm going to give a perfect 10," she said. "I'm just thrilled to do something outside of basketball."
Karolyi, who got the opportunity to reunite with some of his former athletes (Zemeskal and Moceanu) at the meet, said the Reese's is a very interesting competition/show format that is live and colorful.
"It's a lovely competition," Karolyi said. "It is gratifying, too, to see some of my athletes grow up. I find it beautiful."
Moceanu, who now coaches girls' gymnastics in Spring and plans to become a full-time student in January at Montgomery Junior College, is still getting used to the non-athlete side of gymnastics. Prior to the competition, Moceanu said she was excited about judging.
"I think it will be fun to judge," Moceanu said. "I wish I was competing because it's here in Houston and a lot of my friends and family could come and see it," she said.
Miller, who finished her last final for the semester Nov. 30, said she got in shape for the meet by training only two hours per day, four to five days a week -- opposed to her rigorous Olympic training of eight hours per day, six days a week.
"I only took 12 hours this semester, so it wasn't too hard to train,"
Miller said. "I won't do anymore competitions, only a little of exhibitions,"
she said. "For the most part, I'm pretty much done, but I'm sure I'll go
in the gym and play."
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