"My friends back home know I've experienced a lot, but they treat me the same," says Yamaguchi. "I'm just an athlete. I don't think I've changed. It's still funny to have other people fussing over your hair, pretending you're a model for a day. I still feel I'm the same old kid, and someone who still wants to be one."
In September, Yamaguchi decided to turn professional, which makes her ineligible to go for a third straight world championship in March. Under a new ruling that was passed by the International Skating Union this summer, however, she can apply for reinstatement as an amateur and try to qualify for a spot on the U.S. team for the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. She isn't committing on that for a while.
"Any medal would have made people happy in '92," Yamaguchi says. "But in '94 it will be expected to be gold. I've never had that kind of pressure on me before."
If any athlete's head should have spun like a top following her Olympic performance, it was Shannon Miller's. On a strong U.S. women's gymnastics team, Miller came to the Olympics a second fiddle to reigning world all-around champion Kim Zmeskal. But Miller knew this was her Olympics too. "Other people may not have had high expectations for me in Barcelona," she says, "but I had high expectations for myself."
It was the opposite situation from Ito's. The American's goals and expectations came from within. And Miller, a gymnastics Cinderella, met them. In the competition of her life, she outperformed every woman gymnast in the world save one, the Unified Team's Tatyana Gutsu, and emerged as the most-decorated U.S. athlete at either of this year's Summer or Winter Games, with two silvers and three bronze medals.
What has changed in her life? It might be easier to answer, What hasn't? Miller is a star now. During this fall's 23-city tour by world and Olympic stars, a group that included such luminaries as Gutsu and Belorussia's Svetlana Boginskaya, the 4'8½", 76-pound Miller received the loudest cheers. When the advance ticket sales were slow, Miller was the gymnast whom tour sponsors flew in to do radio and newspaper interviews. Six months ago this slight, catlike waif could have paraded down New York's Fifth Avenue in her leotard without drawing a second look. Then, suddenly, young men were sending her their photographs—an envelope addressed SHANNON MILLER, OLYMPIC GYMNAST, EDMOND, OKLA., would suffice—or approaching her in hotel lobbies with a tentative "Are you who I think you are?" The 15-year-old Miller puts her fan mail and gifts in boxes and files the return addresses in her home computer so she can answer her fans in due time.
Quiet and unassuming, Miller smiles when asked if the sudden attention and celebrity have gone to her head. "I still go to public school," she says. "I still work out, my coach [Steve Nunno] still yells at me in the gym. My brother and sister still pick on me, and I still pick on them. Many of my friends have known me since I was in the first grade, and they still treat me the same. I've never been accused of being big-headed."
An honors student at Edmond North Mid High, Miller last fall traveled for the first time with a tutor, so she could keep up with her 10th-grade courses: world history, algebra, biology, world literature, Spanish and computer literacy. And she's saving money for college from the income she earned from the tour and from a Trivial Pursuit commercial she made. "I don't have much time for homework, with all the training, but somehow I make the time," she says. "I've learned through gymnastics that you can't wait until the last minute. I don't know if I'd be making straight A's if it weren't for the discipline I got from gymnastics."
When she speaks of the Olympics, Miller doesn't mention her medals unless specifically asked. She likes to talk about the Village, the athletes' beach and meeting the Dream Team. "It was everything I dreamed of and more," she says. "It was fun getting there and fun being there. I hadn't planned to keep competing until '96, but after the Olympics were over I didn't want to stop. It's so much fun."
Miller loved all of it: the post-Olympic tour, the camaraderie, the audiences, the travel, the training. "We traveled in a huge bus that had a kitchen and two living rooms," she says. "We were like a big family. I missed being with my own family, but I have the whole rest of my life to be with them. This is just a few weeks out of my life if you look at the big picture."