Gymnastic event stirs memories for ex-Olympian Miller

Shannon Miller’s days as a competitive gymnast came to an end after the 1996 Olympics. On Saturday, however, she was focused on the start of her career.

As Miller prepared to crown the winners of the Lady Luck Invitational at the South Point, the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history was reminded of her youth when she competed in similar events.

“It seems like a different lifetime now,” said Miller, 35, a seven-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion. “I’m a mother now, and it’s not often I get to walk into an event like this with all of the young kids. It definitely brings back memories.”

More than 1,800 young athletes from the United States, Australia, Canada and Mexico competed in the two-day event, with the winners earning spots in the Nastia Liukin Cup on March 2 in New York.

Miller said she owed her success to similar events.

“I was nervous, but I loved to be able to show off all the things I had learned in training,” Miller said.

Miller has continued her involvement in gymnastics as a TV analyst despite a year-long battle with ovarian cancer, which recently was declared in remission. She said the competitors often ask her for advice.

“I tell them not to be concerned about falling,” she said. “Now is the time to make those mistakes.”

Miller noted that some of the younger athletes potentially could qualify for the 2016 Olympic team.

“This is how you get started,” she said. “This is where you learn to compete. At this level, it’s all about the numbers. You compete in as many tournaments as you can to learn how to handle the nerves.”

The process, she said, eventually will yield the strongest athletes.

“You have to have an inner passion,” Miller said. “No one can make you be a great competitor. This is where the girls start realizing whether or not they have that passion.”

Most of this weekend’s athletes will never compete in the Olympics, but there were other goals. Meet director Dayna Waroe, the president of Brown’s Gymnastics Las Vegas, said many of the participants were pursuing some level of national recognition.

“In our gym, the No. 1 goal is full scholarships,” said Waroe, who has coached seven national champions. “There are at least 20 college coaches from throughout the country who are here recruiting.”

In the Level 10 juniors division, Wynter Childers of Spearfish, S.D., racked up 37.475 points to claim the championship. The Level 10 seniors division was won by Houston’s Caitlin Atkinson, who compiled 38.325 points.

Though Waroe’s Brown’s Gymnastics Las Vegas squad won the all-around team title, she insisted that all of the event’s athletes departed as winners.

“We’re not just coaching gymnastics,” she said. “We’re trying to build character and strong work ethics, and we want to keep kids in a healthy, safe environment.”

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