Shannon Miller recalls 1996 Olympic podium thoughts in book excerpt

Shannon Miller
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Seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller looked back on her gymnastics career in “It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life,” her recently released book.

In a provided excerpt, Miller goes back to her final Olympic competition, the Atlanta balance beam final on July 29, 1996.

Though Miller helped lead the U.S. team to gold in Atlanta, she was disappointed to finish eighth in both the all-around and vault finals, competing with an injured wrist.

In front of 40,000 people in the Georgia Dome, Miller was so cognizant in her final event as she performed on beam that she heard papers shuffling, nervous coughs and a gentleman on the left side of the arena yell, “Hey, buddy, shut your flash off!” to a photographer.

She hit her routine for a 9.862, taking the lead with four women still to perform, a score she couldn’t remember when a stranger quizzed her at an airport shortly after the Olympics. No other gymnast could beat her score, including the Olympic all-around champion Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine who followed Miller in the start order.

Miller’s final Olympic routine earned the first individual Olympic gold medal of her career and seventh total Olympic medal. She’s the most decorated U.S. Olympic gymnast of all time.

Here were her thoughts after receiving her gold medal, from “It’s Not About Perfect:”

As I stood on the podium, watching the American flag being raised, I thought about the people who had helped get me there, my team. You don’t land a gold medal alone; success is always a team effort. I thought of my parents, whose support of me never wavered. I thought of my coaches Steve and Peggy, who had stuck with me and were so patient with me—a young, determined, often frustrated control freak—for all of those years. Steve was often the one in the limelight but Peggy was also crucial to my success as a gymnast and in life. I also thought about how I had not retired after the 1992 Olympics and continued gymnastics simply because I loved the sport and the part it played in my life. I thought of how I trained up to eight hours a day with the thought of competing in an Olympics in my own country. I thought of how the hand specialist advised that I quit gymnastics rather than try for another Olympics. I thought about my painful wrist, which wouldn’t improve for years.

I also thought of how skeptical people were about my chances in Atlanta because I had grown six inches, gained thirty pounds, and aged four years. My mind was flooded with all the bad falls and disappointments and doubt. I thought of how important it was that I continued to get back up after each and every fall, and to move forward after every setback.

What was the story of that girl on the podium? Maybe it was that you cannot succeed if you don’t dare to try. That you must keep trying even after you fall on your backside. And that you should never let others decide how much you can achieve. Dream big, work hard, and don’t set limits on what you could do or be.

I had success because I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to. It didn’t matter that I was a girl or that I was small or that I was reserved. It didn’t matter that my parents didn’t have infinite resources. It wasn’t about perfect; it was about making the full effort. It was about setting goals and steadfastly refusing to be derailed. Keep passion alive. Many people don’t realize how strong they truly are until they are challenged. My sport did that for me. Gymnastics allowed me to see what I was made of. And when I had doubts or faced obstacles, it always reminded me.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Miller competed in the floor exercise final at the Atlanta Olympics.

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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