Please pardon the yelling (I have big feelings and hope that, should I yell loudly enough, my voice might time-travel and intimidate biased Eastern Bloc judges into fairer scoring) and also pardon the pronunciation of the Olympic host-city: …my college roommate had a cousin who had studied abroad in Spain and that’s how *she* pronounced it that one time we met her for tapash).
But indeed, at the 1992 Games, Shannon deserved–unequivocally–to win the gold medal in the all-around final over Soviet trickster Tatiana Gutsu: the pint-sized, Ukrainian-born, golden-haired, fairy-like favorite. Did Gutsu perform well? Da. Was her feline sense of balance preternaturally good—so good she might in reality be half-cat? Also yes. But had she actually qualified into the all-around final?
No, no, and NYET!
Gutsu was, in fact, the alternate, having fallen off beam in prelims; ‘little Roza Galieva,’ a relatively obscure Soviet teammate, had qualified ahead of Gutsu (along with Svetlana Boguinskaia, of extraterrestrial elegance and neon-leotard fame). More confident in Gutsu’s medal-contending capacity, however, head Soviet coach Leonid Arkayev forced Galieva to withdraw from the final, citing an invisible and theretofore-unmentioned injury.
Faced with dream-crushing musical chairs on the part of her biggest competitors, Shannon did not whither or buckle—no! Instead, she put her best damned pointed-foot forward—really far forward—so far, in fact, that her toes nearly touched the back of her Scrunchie-crowned head (on what would later be known as her signature beam mount)! This routine, packed with grace and difficulty, dazzling the in-house. late dinner-eating Iberian spectators, gave Shannon, who had previously lifted off vault and orbited around uneven bars with the weightlessness of a crisp, autumn leaf, an edge going into the final apparatus: floor.
But it was here that Gutsu could re-gain her athletic tape-covered footing, for her superior difficulty could justify whatever score disparity was necessary to inch her ahead. Despite Shannon’s ethereal, transcendent, pixie-like performance on floor, when the gavel made contact, it was tiny Tatiana who the judges had decided should—nay, conspired to ensure would!—take gold.
BUT SHANNON! In the instant the Oklahoma native had hit her final floor pose, religions were founded, peace treatises brokered, marriage proposals made, diseases cured—hell, that’s when *I* learned I was gay!
Heartbroken but not derailed, Shannon did, of course, prevail beyond the Games to be enormously celebrated and decorated over the following 4 years—winning 2 golds in Atlanta in ’96, even—while Gutsu disappeared noiselessly from the scene.
If you want to taste heaven, children, here is my advice: get bangs, don a Scrunchie, and go and watch Shannon Miller on balance beam at the 1992 Olympics. But do not—I repeat, DO NOT—try those moves at home.
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