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Two gymnastics stars with uncertain futures

August 25, 1997

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) _ Shannon Miller and Yuri Chechi are used to bigger stages, but the University Games may have served as the closing chapters of their international gymnastic careers.

If so, Chechi’s ended on a high note, Miller’s a sour one.

Today, the Italian federation issued a statement saying Chechi has still not decided whether to compete at the World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, next month. He’ll travel with the team to Lausanne _ where he’ll also promote Rome’s bid for the 2004 Olympics ahead of the Sept. 5 vote _ and make up his mind once there.

Chechi delighted a raucous partisan crowd at Palacatania arena Sunday with a nearly flawless routine to win the rings event, adding to a collection that includes the 1996 Olympic crown and four straight world titles.

``It was very emotional out there,″ said the Italian, who will retire this year. ``I felt a great responsibility to do well before all the people. That made it more difficult.″

In today’s tennis semifinals, top seed Yoon Yong Il of South Korea beat Germany’s Alexander Von Hugo 7-6 (7-4), 6-4. He’ll meet 16th seed Pavel Kudrnac of the Czech Republic, who earned a spot in the final by upsetting third seed Ling Bing-Chao of Taiwan, 6-2, 6-1. Among the women, Taiwan’s top seeded Wang Shi-Ting beat Italy’s Germana Di Natale 6-2, 6-2, while Maria Callen of France got by No. 2 Jeon Mi Ra of South Korea, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0.

Monday’s other events included the quarterfinals in women’s basketball _ including the undefeated United States against Russia _ and the beginning of the diving competition, with medals to be awarded in the women’s springboard.

Miller’s Sunday was made more difficult by a hamstring injury she picked up in winning Saturday’s all-around gold.

She pulled out of the vault just minutes before it was to start, and also withdrew from the floor exercise. The 20-year-old did compete in the bars, but finished fifth.

It was an anticlimactic end to Miller’s first University Games, where she led the United States to the team silver medal despite a slip on the balance beam, and then showed tremendous poise in recovering from another slip to rally for the all-around title.

Since winning two golds at Atlanta last summer, raising her tally to 16 Olympic and world medals, Miller has cut her practice time from about 48 hours per week to 12.

Asked about her beam troubles this week, Miller said: ``The only I thing I can attribute it to is the hours and numbers (of repetitions) in the gym. ...

``I was happy I was even able to compete in international competition again. It was great to be back out there,″ she added.

Miller, a part-time student at Oklahoma, has already opted out of the World Championships, next month in Lausanne, Switzerland. She said this week that event no longer provides excitement for her.

Chechi’s supporters provided plenty of excitement before, during and after his performance. About 4,500 people filled the arena, waving flags and serenading him with deafening soccer-style chants. Hundreds of others watched on a large-screen TV outside the venue.

Chechi did not disappoint, with his score of 9.8 earning Italy its first gold of the games, but he could let down his legions of fans today.

The gymnast said that’s when he’ll announce whether he will try for a fifth straight rings title at the World Championships.

``If I get the silver medal in Lausanne, I’ll still be happy, but obviously it won’t be the best way to end my career,″ he said.

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