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Miller's finale is her finest

No more unfinished business for Shannon Miller.

On the final night of her sterling career, the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history captured the one milestone that had eluded her.

An individual Olympic gold medal.

"I don't know what else to say but it feels great," said Miller, 19, from Oklahoma City. "It was a great note to end on."

Miller was one of three U.S. gymnasts to win medals Monday. Former Stanford star Jair Lynch won a silver on the men's parallel bars and Dominique Dawes, taking the injured Kerri Strug's place in the women's floor exercise, won a bronze.

Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine won the floor exercise with a score of 9.887, and Simona Amanar of Romania won the silver with 9.850. Dawes finished at 9.837.

But this was Miller's night to savor.

Miller's gold-medal effort came one night after she finished last on the vault during the individual event finals.

"She hadn't missed a vault all week leading up to the all-around," U.S. coach Steve Nunno said. "But it happened. She missed. It was heartbreaking.

"For any other gymnast, it would have been devastating. But not Shannon."

Miller came back more determined than ever.

"It was my chance to redeem myself from yesterday's vault," Miller said. "That was one of the best beam routines I've ever done."

She also realized it was her last chance at an individual gold medal.

"Yeah, I thought about that," Miller said. "I sensed that it was now or never."

Performing fourth in the eight-woman rotation, Miller executed a seemingly flawless routine.

When Miller nailed her dismount, she realized she had put herself in contention for the gold, and waved happily to the crowd.

"I knew I had done the best beam routine I knew I had in me," Miller said. "Winning a gold medal is great. But no matter where I would have placed, I would have been happy with my performance."

The judges awarded her 9.862 out of a possible 10. For the next few minutes, as the last of her rivals tried and failed to dislodge her from No. 1, Miller sat emotionless, watching, waiting to see whether the gold medal really was hers.

Finally, when Russia's Rozalia Galiyeva, the final competitor, fell off the beam, Miller knew she had done it.

Nunno rushed to embrace her. So did Dawes. The crowd at the Georgia Dome roared.

All-around champion Podkopayeva won the silver and Gina Gogean of Romania got the bronze. It was Gogean's fourth medal of the Games.

Miller's teammate, Dominique Moceanu, finished sixth on the beam after a spill. The 14-year-old was trying to complete three aerial back handsprings on the 4-inch-wide beam, but missed her footing as she landed the second one.

Her right foot never landed on the beam, she couldn't get enough height and came crashing down on the next handspring, smacking the top of her head on the beam.

She got right back into the routine and finished solidly. But she started shaking her head as she walked off the podium.

Miller ends her Olympic career with seven medals. She won two silver and three bronze medals at the 1992 Games.

"The team medal was for my coach, my teammates and my country," Miller said. "This medal was for me."

Strug, who dramatically clinched a gold medal for the U.S. women's team Tuesday by vaulting with a sprained left ankle, did not compete in her specialty, the floor exercise.

"She broke down in tears. She was very, very upset," said Strug's coach, Bela Karolyi, after telling her the team doctor had ruled against her competing.

Karolyi said the doctor told him that Strug had torn ligaments on both sides of the ankle _ an injury that normally takes three weeks to heal.

"The medical treatment she got was incredible," he said.

Karolyi said Strug was planning her comeback and expected to report to his Texas ranch on Aug.

25.

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