While I love running, there is no question that my first love of sports will always be gymnastics. My favorite gymnastics meet of all time will always be the 1996 Olympics. Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, Kerri Strug, Jaycie Phelps & Shannon Miller tumbled, danced and vaulted their way into living rooms across the country as they became the first American gymnastics team to win gold at a non-boycotted Olympics. At 10 years old I was captivated and immediately fell in love with the sport. I watched my VHS tapes over and over and over again. I have the scores, the comments from the commentators and even the commercials memorized.
After the Olympics I became obsessed with wanting to know anything and everything about the sport. The internet wasn’t filled with the knowledge it is now. I relied on books and watching what was on TV to learn about each of these gymnasts. As far as I was concerned they were the best gymnasts in the history of gymnastics. I’m pretty sure my parents wished they could suddenly lose all of my VHS tapes.
One gymnast finished her career as the most decorated gymnast of all time. She was one of my favorites and I enjoyed her mothers book My Child My Hero that came out sometime after her career was over. Shannon Miller was quiet and reserved in interviews but spoke volumes when she mounted the balance beam. Her memoir It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life hit the book stands a few weeks ago and I made sure my pre-order was delivered the day it came out.
I was a little nervous that reading about her life would change my opinion of her. It has happened with another member of her 1996 Olympic team. Realizing that there is more to these girls than gymnastics & there is so much that goes on behind the scenes I was afraid that once I got to know one of my favorites more I would no longer respect her the way I once had.
This was not the case at all.
Things I Never Realized About Shannon/Her Career
Shannon was relatively unknown going into the 1992 Olympics. I was only 6 at the time so I did not watch or pay attention to any of the Olympics back then. Looking back at YouTube videos and random press releases the whole world was watching Kim Zmeskal. No one knew who Shannon was.
After my performances in team and all-around, I was inundated with media attention. I was no longer a secret, the dark horse. – Miller, Shannon; Peary, Danny (2015-04-21). It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life (Kindle Location 1566). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
The biggest thing that stood out to me is how incredibly different gymnastics is in the USA these days compared to when Shannon Miller was competing. Shannon talks time and time again in her book about how she wasn’t really friends with her teammates at competitions. Their friendships would form on the Olympic tour but while they were at competitions they pretty much held back since they rarely saw each other. As a 10 year old, I assumed they were all best friends who knew each other like best friends should.
This is the complete opposite today as you see the girls on the national team CONSTANTLY posting pictures of/with each other on social media. With a completely different training regime in place there is no question the sport has evolved.
Lastly, I was surprised by Shannon’s innocence throughout the book. She was always portrayed by the media as the shy, quiet gymnast but as a 10 year old watching her in 1996 I assumed she was experienced, comfortable & an adult who knew everything. Reading her book you could really tell her life was all gymnastics all the time. I loved how she went into detail about life after gymnastics & how she really didn’t know what to do next.
Things I Loved Reading About
As with any sporting event on TV we only get a glimpse into what really goes on behind the scenes. Shannon nailed down a lot of details about different competitions that people might not have realized or that didn’t make the TV cut. Throughout the book she would say things like “I would find out later that the commentator said…..” or refer to specific events that the media looked down on her for.
At the time there was no social media for her to talk more extensively about what really happened. It was up to the media. These days athletes and coaches tend to take to social media sites like Twitter to give an explanation as to why an event happens the way it does.
Shannon talked a lot about her emotions and feelings about gymnastics after the 1992 and the 1996 Olympics. It was interesting to me to hear her talk more about her wanting to quit mid-way through the 1992-1996 quad because she had no goals in mind.
Most of all I loved how completely open and honest Shannon was throughout the entire book. There was no holding back with her emotions and feelings in all aspects of her life. She didn’t hold back on her cancer recovery or her thoughts going through her diagnoses and treatment.
As a gymnastics fan this book took me right back to the days I originally fell in love with the sport of gymnastics. I think it’s a wonderful book for gymnastics fans to pick up and read but at the same time it was a great story of a girl simply growing up and facing reality.
There were a lot of areas of the book that were gymnastics heavy but the book doesn’t end where Shannon’s career ended. A bulk of the book is about life after gymnastics, finding herself, becoming a mom & facing the reality that she was diagnosed with cancer. Shannon tells it like it was and how it took until later in life to truly undersatnd the impact she made on gymnastics.
I do believe my new appreciation of my gymnastics legacy of awards and medals has much to do with having children. Seeing the world through their eyes has helped me put my career into perspective. I have finally learned to stop and smell the roses. – Miller, Shannon; Peary, Danny (2015-04-21). It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life (Kindle Locations 4234-4236). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
A wonderful book and now I’m impatiently waiting for Shannon’s interview on this week’s Gymcastic episode. In the mean time, I think I’m going to go watch the 1996 Olympics again.