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Dawes is a giant among her competitors

In an arena famous for a 7-footer, diminutive Dominique Dawes dominated the international competition Saturday and cruised to first place at the McDonald's American Cup in front of 7,412 fans at the Orlando Arena.

Dawes, all 4 feet, 11 inches of dynamite, was the favorite after finishing Friday's elimination round in the top spot. Dawes never trailed, never faltered, never was fazed. Her competition never had a chance.

She finished with a score of 39.385, but will turn down the $5,000 purse to maintain her Olympic and NCAA eligibility. Dawes is a high school senior and plans to attend Stanford University in the fall.

Holding a 0.181-point lead going into the fifth rotation, Dawes attacked the balance beam with vigor and grace, nailed a triple back layout and landed squarely for a score of 9.85. From then on, the race was for second place.

"This was my best performance," Dawes said. "I really felt proud. I think my floor exercise was the best. I didn't think I could smile, but I was able to," she said.

Shannon Miller, the top seed and defending champion, aggravated a strained abdominal muscle in Friday's competition and was forced to sit out Saturday.

"I did not really think about Shannon not being here. I just concentrated on hitting my routines and trying to come in first," Dawes said.

Dawes put on a show. She hit high scores in the vault (9.812) and the uneven bars (9.875). But Dawes was not done. Left was the floor exercise, her best event, and she did not disappoint. She tumbled, rolled and flipped to the roars of the crowd. She landed perfectly and the championship was hers.

In the men's competition, Olympic and world champion Vitaly Scherbo trailed American John Roethlisberger after five rotations. Scherbo got a chance to take the lead when Roethlisberger fell off the parallel bars.

"He's an American gymnast, not a Russian. He could not do everything to the end," Scherbo said. "I expected that I would win, but I did not expect it would be that hard.

"I think he must be more calm and easy going during events. He wasn't and that's why he fell."

"I wasn't calm. Basically, I choked," Roethlisberger said. "I got too uptight, went off a little and fell of the bars. The other five events were perfect. I could not have done it any better."

Scherbo scored a modest 9.375 on the bars but finished with a powerful horizontal bar score of 9.7. Roethlisberger stayed close, scoring 9.65 in his final routine, but could not recover.

Vasso Tsavdaridou of Greece took second place in the women's division, just ahead of Elana Piskun of Belaros. Germany's Oliver Walther finished third among the men.