Read an Excerpt
The Floor Exercise
After the first three events, I knew I was ahead by a small margin. If I could turn in a good floor exercise, I had a chance at a medal--possibly even a gold one. The floor routine is one of my very favorites--I'm filled with joy when I'm out there performing. More than any other event, it's a chance for me to show my stuff and engage the audience in my performance.
I was so excited about going out there and wowing the crowd that I didn't feel at all nervous or excited. A big change from my earlier meets! I had no worries. I'm not sure how that was true. It's probably hard to imagine facing the performance of your life, the one that will make or break you--and in front of tens of thousands of people, no less--and not feel hysterical, but it was definitely true for me.
I felt supremely confident. I knew I could do every trick, every move in my routine. They came easily to me after so many months of training. So when I headed out on the floor, I decided to show it off really big, really powerfully from the moment I saluted the judges. Even better, I was the last competitor in that event, so I could really go after the crowd. I was determined to get the attention of everyone in the arena.
Bela seemed to sense my mood, and he encouraged it. He believed I could deliver a great performance. "You can do it, Dominique, with no problem," he told me over and over. "You know you are the best. Show the people you are the best."
As soon as the music started I was psyched. Bela had chosen "Chantilly Lace" by the Big Bopper as my signature song, and I loved it. The catchy rhythm and fun words made me feel like snapping myfingers.
The floor exercise takes place on a square of carpet forty feet by forty feet. The object is to perform all your skills, using as much of the carpet as possible, without putting even a pinkie toe over the line.
I began with a dance sequence cued to the music, which led into a tumbling pass from one corner of the carpet to its opposite diagonal corner. In my routine that day, there were a total of four tumbling passes from corner to corner. I used handsprings, roundoffs, layouts, saltos, you name it. I nailed every one. On one of the passes I performed my trademark move, which is a little hop at the very end of the tumbling series. It starts with a handspring, front full twist, followed by a forward punch layout (no arms, body straight). On the landing after the layout, instead of raising my arms to signal the finish, I jumped straight up into the air, landed, then went into my final pose. The crowd went crazy, clapping, whistling, calling my name.
(I picked that move up from Svetlana Boguinskaia, who had been training with me and Kerri Strug at Bela's. I noticed that when Svetlana practiced different passes on her floor routine, she did that little hop move at the end. She did this only in the gym, not in competitions. After a while I added it to my performance, just to give it a different look. Svetlana is planning to represent the Republic of Belarus in the Summer Games in Atlanta.)
As soon as I landed my final pose cleanly, I felt ecstatic. I felt in my heart that I would win the all-around. I had done my best.
Yes! I thought. The moment I've been waiting for my whole life is here! I could barely breathe as I waited for my floor exercise score.
Then it came: 9.80. I confess that I was a little surprised and disappointed. I felt that I had done better than that. I guess the crowd agreed with me, because they booed the judges' decision.
But even that score was good enough to win the all-around gold medal--over a great gymnast and 1992 Olympic silver medalist, Shannon Miller from Oklahoma. I had a total all-around score of 78.45. Shannon's was 78.25.
There's no way to describe the excitement I felt at that moment, when I realized I had definitely won the gold. Bela rushed over and swept me up into one of his huge bear hugs.
"You did it!" he shouted into my ear. "You did it! You little sucker, you did it!"
I was melting with happiness to hear his words.