Monday, March 2, 2009

Shannon Miller

Shannon Miller is known as the best competitive gymnast in American sports history. She has the record for the most titles among U.S artistic gymnasts, with an amazing resume of 11 gold, six silver, and four bronze medals, among many other titles and honors. While she is known today as one of the country's finest athletes, her hard work and dedication began over 30 years ago in Midwestern America. Shannon was born on March 10, 1977, in Missouri, but her family moved to Edmond, Oklahoma before she could even walk.  Like many little girls, she began gymnastics when she was only five years old. Unlike most, however, Shannon had astounding talent in the discipline.

When Miller was nine years old she traveled to Moscow with her mother for gymnastics camp. Her performance at the camp caught the attention of the elite Russian coaches. They saw in her the potential to be a world class competitor. An American coach from Oklahoma named Steve Nuno was also instructing at the camp, and he took Shannon under his tutelage when they returned to their home state. This proved to be a good match, as Shannon greatly improved while training with Nuno. In 1989 she  was the third place winner at the Olympic Festival, an event specifically for rising stars in the competitive sports world. This was only the beginning of Shannon's winning career.

At the age of 14, Miller was performing some of the most difficult routines known in the sport. This did not seem to be any comfort to her, however, as she always seemed to be in the shadow of Kim Zmeskal, another talented gymnast of the day. Shannon did not let this rivalry impede her performance, however. It simply made her more determined to win. In the Early 90s she began her career as the record breaking gymnastics dynamo the world knows today.

From 1990-1991 Shannon competed in international events, traveling to Europe for several major competitions. She completed perfect routines on the balance beam for The Swiss Cup as well as the Arthur Gander Memorial event. She took home the All-Around title from the 1991 Gander meet, as well. She also recorded the highest total score in history for this event, tying with Kim Zmeskal who had the same total in the year prior. Miller also competed at her first World Championships in 1991, earning  a silver medal for her individual uneven bar routine. As a member of the American team, she also won a silver medal and was part of the first American team to win the World Championship team competition. Her rival, Kim Zmeskal, took home the gold medal for All-Around that year, another U.S first. 

The year 1992 was a very challenging year for Miller. She had a major disappointment during the American Cup when she fell during her final routine, just as she was getting close to finally defeating Zmeskal. To add to her bad luck, she broke her elbow just before the Olympic games that same year. Not only did it appear that Shannon would have to forgo her Olympic dream, she also had to miss the World Championships during her recovery. While she had been favored for the Individual Apparatus event, the titles went instead to Kim Zmeskal and another top gymnast, Lavinia Milosovici. 

Shannon did not let her injuries or disappointment keep her down, however. She managed to defeat Zmeskal at the 1992 Nationals and also the Olympic Trials that year. Advancing to the Olympic Games, Miller not only won the compulsory portion, but also every individual event. This accomplishment allowed her to win All-Around and become the top ranked gymnast world-wide.

Miller remained undefeated for the next two years, defending all of her titles. She performed the best balance beam routine of her career at the 1994 World Championship finals. She finally won the gold medal that had slipped through her fingers the previous year. Later that year, her streak was upset by Dina Kochetkova, who won the 94 Goodwill Games by a thin margin over Miller. Shannon still took home gold and silver medals, however, adding to her amazing career record.

During the next year Shannon would again encounter challenges with injuries as well as her own natural human development as she experienced a growth spurt that changed her center of gravity.  Even though she won the 95 American Classic, the National Championships were not in her cards, and she lost to newcomer Dominique Moceanu. Miller also missed the gold for the World Championships that year when she hurt her ankle. She was not able to win any medals at the competition due to her injury, although she placed very well in the events she completed.

In 1996 Shannon was back in top form, winning the National Championships despite tendinitis in her wrist with a floor routine that, experts asserted, was her finest ever. She had performed a new routine that included a double layout and an unprecedented twisting vault she invented herself. She approached the Olympics that year as a top competitor for her country, but more injuries kept her from competing at the World Championships and Olympic trials. She was granted a petition by the American team, however, and Miller was headed to the Olympics once again. As part of the “Magnificent 7”, the 1996 American team took Olympic gold, defeating the Russians for the first time in Olympic history.

That year Shannon established many Olympic records despite being injured. She became the first American gold medalist for the beam competition. She was also the first female American gold medalist for the individual apparatus competition at a non-boycotted Olympic Game. She also became the first and only woman to win two Olympic gold medals in the sport of gymnastics. With seven Olympic gold medals, Miller could proudly end her professional gymnastics career.

While she did compete after 1996, her constant injuries did not allow her to keep up the same level of success as a gold medalist. This did not deter Miller from becoming a success in other aspects of her life, however. In 2003 Shannon completed her undergraduate degree, graduating from the University of Houston with a B.B.A. She continued on to law school, and graduated in 2007.  Her first marriage to fellow lawyer Christopher Phillips only lasted five years, but she later started a family with her second husband, John Falconetti. Their son, Rocco, was born in October of 2009.

Shannon Miller has the distinction of earning the most titles of any American gymnast. She is also the
only woman to be honored with two entries in the Olympics Hall of Fame. Her extreme dedication to her craft earned her these honors and titles. Through injury and defeat she pushed her limits until she achieved her dreams. Even after retirement, Shannon has proven that there are no obstacles that she cannot overcome.