Gymnsatics: Miller's fairy-tale of twists and turns: She looks as fragile as a china doll but she is the queen of the World Championships

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THE MOST startling piece of information you receive about Shannon Miller is that she has grown two inches since the Olympics. 'She's really filling out,' a public relations woman said with an ironic grin. Miller still looks as though a sharp sneeze in her direction would bowl her over.

The American gymnast is a 4ft 9in waif. She is so small and spindly that if you are not careful you can trip over her. At 16 she is a young woman with a body of a child, a contradiction made starker by the layers of bright make-up she wears for television. She looks like a painted china doll, so fragile you would be frightened to knock into her in case she breaks.

Which, of course, could not be further from the case. Miller has muscles where even the fit have flab. She contorts her tiny body to the extremity of human possibility and looks graceful with it.

And Miller has more, far more. Last night she won the all-round gold medal in the World Gymnastics Championships at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, to add to the five medals she collected in Barcelona which made her the most successful American woman in a non- boycotted Games. The qualifiers - four disciplines, four firsts - had led us to believe she would have a lap of honour round the apparatus. Instead, it was mighty close thing.

A wobble and a dismount from the beam that propelled her backwards and threatened to land her flat on her behind earned her 9.625. In normal circumstances that would be a high score but in a world where dropping a tenth of a point is like conceding a goal at football it plunged her from first to fifth. The question was whether she could score enough in her remaining two disciplines to make up the leeway.

A 9.825 on the floor put her within range and, like a racehorse winning with the latest of surges, broke the tape with two majestic vaults. Her winning margin over Gina Gogean, of Romania, was just seven-thousandths of a point.

'People criticise Shannon saying she has been programmed,' her coach, Steve Nunno, said of her deadpan expression during the winner's performances. 'If she is then she programmes herself. She has amazing concentration.'

With a gold in the overall and the prospect of more in the individual events, Miller is also threatening to concentrate the medals in her direction. Little wonder she is walking taller.