Published on April 17th, 2012 | by Alan Abrahamson1
Shannon Miller: happy, healthy, optimistic
It’s 101 days to go Tuesday until the opening ceremony in London, and Shannon Miller is in Chicago, up early, on the telephone, happy, healthy, talking about gymnastics, about Nastia Liukin, about how records are made to be broken, about how the 2012 U.S. women’s team looks really good.
It’s all good.
Of course it is. Any day you’re cancer-free is, as Shannon Miller makes plain, a great day.
It was just a little bit over a year ago that Miller, America’s most-decorated gymnast, was diagnosed with a form of ovarian cancer.
During an annual exam, doctors discovered a baseball-sized cyst, a germ cell malignancy, on an ovary. The cyst and ovary were removed. Miller then opted for several weeks of preventative chemotherapy said to improve her cure rate to 99 percent.
Early detection — as ever in many cancer cases — is key, she said.
A few weeks ago, Miller turned 35; she was 33 when the tumor was discovered. “With something like ovarian cancer, you think it’s for older women,” she said. “Cancer doesn’t care how old you are. It doesn’t care how many gold medals you have. It doesn’t discriminate.”
Shannon Miller has two gold medals, both from 1996 in Atlanta, the team gold and the individual balance beam. She has five more from 1992 in Barcelona, two silvers in the all-around and the beam and three bronze medals, the team and the individual bars and floor.
For those counting, she also has nine world championship medals.
Nastia Liukin won five Olympic medals in Beijing in 2008. That’s of course the same number Miller won in Barcelona.
Liukin, the 2008 all-around champion, is now in training for London. It’s unclear whether she can repeat as 2012 all-around champ. She didn’t, for instance, even compete at the 2011 world championships; Jordyn Wieber, a 16-year-old from East Lansing, Mich., was the all-around winner, and the Americans surprisingly won team gold.
Then again — Liukin, when she is in top form, can deliver an almost ethereal performance on the uneven bars. Gymnastics insiders know that the 2012 U.S. team is almost surely going to need a strong bars performer. Might it be Liukin?
“My feelings on Nastia — I love her,” Miller said.
“I see a beautiful, beautiful athlete. I see that classical style. Because I went through my own comeback,” from Barcelona to Atlanta, “I see in her that wanting to learn new skills, to wanting to be with my gymnastics family again, to feel that adrenaline rush. I understand that competitive rush.
“If anyone is going to break my records, I would be glad to turn it over to Nastia. That’s what the U.S. should be doing. I would be sad if my records stood for decades. Because that means no one would be coming along for decades and decades. It needs to happen.”
Since 2000, the U.S. women have dominated world gymnastics, winning 60 world and Olympic medals — no other nation has more than 35 — and producing the last two Olympic champions.
But — the Americans have not won team gold at the Games since 1996.
The American roster this year is so deep that picking five — that’s all you get — from the roster of 20 on the national team will doubtlessly be an enormous challenge.
But it also, for gymnastics experts and casual fans alike, ought to produce intense interest.
That’s what Miller was doing in Chicago — promoting a meet there at the end of May, the Secret U.S. Classic, a let’s-see-what-you’ve-got-in-your-routines in time for the June 7-10 Visa national championships in St. Louis, which are themselves a get-ready for the Olympic Trials June 28-July 1 in San Jose.
That’s a lot of gymnastics to get through before London. At the same time, it’s an enormous competitive advantage. Because the five who make it surely should be honed and ready.
Miller said, “I really feel like this year, we are obviously going to … put five incredibly talented, maybe the most incredibly talented, athletes we have ever put out there.”
She said, “It’s kind of theirs to lose at this point.”
And then she added, speaking only about gymnastics but in a reference that bore the wisdom of someone who knows what really matters in life itself, “I think it comes down to: will they be healthy?”