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Dimas still flying high after gold

In another life, Trent Dimas would have spent his summer trying to rearrange someone's face. Or practicing his plies.

Instead, he spent it burning his name into the Olympic record books, which, if not the best of all possible worlds, is pretty close.

"My dad (a former Golden Gloves boxer) wanted us to box, but my mom wouldn't let us," said the 21-year-old gymnast, who took home the United States' lone gold medal at the Barcelona Games. "She said she wasn't going to come home every day and see her kids all beat up. She wanted us to do ballet. You never know; things can go either way. You just go through life hoping you made the right decision, and then you look back and say either it was the right one or it wasn't."

Dimas and 10 other world-class gymnasts are scheduled to perform tonight in an exhibition at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, part of a 25-city tour of the country. Among those joining him are Belarus' Vitaly Scherbo, who won six gold medals in Barcelona; the United States' Shannon Miller; and former Olympian Kurt Thomas. The women will perform on the uneven parallel bars, the floor and the balance beam, while the men will do exercises on the parallel bars, rings, floor, pommel horse and Dimas' specialty, the high bar.

That was the last event at the '92 Games, in which Dimas pulled a 9.875 to capture the gold. He became the first American high-bar gold medalist in 60 years.

"I've always liked the high bars," he said. "You fly through the air, and there's a big fear factor there, so you really get your adrenaline flowing. And also there was the pressure of knowing that the team hadn't come up with anything, and I was the last chance."

Today, Dimas' adrenaline will flow for different reasons. There is no medal at stake _ not even a score _ because there will be no judges. Everything is strictly for the enjoyment of the crowd, which is just fine with Dimas.

"There's a lot of pressure with those judges bearing down on you," Dimas said. "There's still pressure here because you want to do your best for the people, but it's fun because it's more entertainment."

Having fun on the tour is important. Life for Dimas has been a non-stop string of appearances and travel since the end of the Barcelona Games as the New Mexico native tries to capitalize on his Olympic moment. Dimas has seen both highs and lows in his 17-year career.

His father, a contractor, often worked 16-hour days to come up with the money to keep Dimas traveling to elite competitions. When money still came up short, like it did last year after Dimas withdrew from the University of Nebraska to pursue gymnastics full time, he would take an alternate route.

"He had run out of money before the regional qualifying meet," said Dimas' coach, Ed Burch, who runs Gold Cup gymnastics in Albuquerque. "It was going to cost about $1,200 for him and his brother to go, so I told his dad that I would pick up the cost if he would come in and build a landing pit in our gym. There were always times when his parents couldn't pay for gymnastics lessons, and I would exchange contract work for tuition."

The experience had an effect on Dimas.

"It added to the pressure sometimes," he said. "Knowing that my dad was working hard for me, and my coach was working hard for me. I had a lot to prove."

That went double for the U.S. gymnastics team in Barcelona. In a field dominated by Scherbo and the Unified Team, Dimas' gold medal was an eleventh-hour exclamation point, showing that the United States can produce male gymnasts on par with any in the world. Not to take anything away from the "fantastic" athletes that won in the boycotted 1984 Games, Burch said, but they topped a field that didn't include the then-Eastern Bloc countries.

"We will never know just how good a lot of those athletes were because of the boycott," Burch said. "But with Trent, you know he's for real."

Tonight's show begins at 7:30. Tickets are $22.75 and $15.75 and available at the Bayfront Center and through Ticketmaster.