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Amy Van Deusen

Who's the Best American Gymnast?

By November 6, 2008

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The "best" gymnast is an always-tricky question. Is it the one who's won the most medals? Was the first in a category (World Champ, Olympic Champ)? Or the one who did amazing routines but never quite won big?

Well, I think it's a combination of those factors. Here's a few gymnasts I think fall into "best American female" territory (in alphabetical order):
  • Dominique Dawes: 3-time Olympian (1992, 1996, 2000); dominated the 1994 US Nationals with 5 gold medals
  • Marcia Frederick: First American woman to become a World Champion (bars, 1978)
  • Shawn Johnson: 2007 World and US Champion; 2008 4-time Olympic Medalist
  • Nastia Liukin: 9-time World Medalist; 5-time Olympic Medalist; 2008 Olympic All-Around Champion
  • Shannon Miller: 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1996); Back-to-back World All-Around Champion (1993, 1994)
  • Dominique Moceanu: The youngest Senior National Champion ever (age 13); Youngest gymnast to qualify to the junior national team (age 10)
  • Carly Patterson: 2004 Olympic All-Around Champion; 2003 World Silver All-Around Medalist
  • Mary Lou Retton: First American Olympic All-Around Champion (1984)
  • Kim Zmeskal: First American to win a World All-Around Title (1991); 3-time US National Champion
Now, tell us -- who would you say?


November 6, 2008 at 4:03 pm
(1) Pam says:

I think Julianne McNamara should definitely be in the list of Bests. She won Olympic gold on the uneven bars in 1984 with a 10.0, as well as silver on floor. She also was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Ream; had there not been a U.S. boycott, perhaps she would have won medals there as well.

November 9, 2008 at 12:02 pm
(2) Amy says:

Hi Pam,
I agree, Julianne was a great gymnast. I could only fit 10 gymnasts on the poll question, and it was very tough to decide who! Julianne was one I almost included.


December 3, 2008 at 10:59 pm
(3) Triplet_A says:

Shannon Miller is only answer. Nastia competes against very little greats of all decade. Nastia form not very good. Nastia beam cheap skill.
Shannon never get enough credit for great gymnast her country make her. she lot like soviet only better then any in her era.
American gymnastics fan not very smart in poll.
Sorry my english not very good.

December 6, 2008 at 6:07 pm
(4) minnie says:

Shawn Johnson is the best AND the cutest!!

December 6, 2008 at 8:30 pm
(5) mrparke007 says:

You’ve got to be kidding about Shawn Johnson. Yes, she’s a powerhouse and one heck of a gymnast… but the BEST in U.S. history? Hardly. She was neither innovative nor artistic. THIS sport is about being artistic, not just about executing acrobatic elements. I think that if Nastia continues to 2009 and beyond and wins/does well, she should rightfully gain this title.

December 6, 2008 at 8:43 pm
(6) gymrock says:

Shannon Miller hands down. Shawn has the biggest fan appeal, and the potential to be the best if she continues to London.

Btw, mrparke007, you’d better learn respect other’s opinions. No need to trash Shawn just because some people think she is the best. You prefer artistry, while others prefer power. What’s wrong with that?

December 6, 2008 at 9:25 pm
(7) alphie says:

Well it isn’t up to you, mrparke007, now is it?

December 6, 2008 at 10:25 pm
(8) John says:

Brandy Johnson. She proved that one could be muscular and strong and still have all the qualities of a top gymnast. Her FXs from 1989 and 1990 are classics.

December 6, 2008 at 4:24 pm
(9) Amy says:

Hi everyone,
I’ve heard from several people that the poll doesn’t seem to be working correctly. I’ve emailed the IT team at About.com and they’re working to fix it. I promise it’s not rigged :-) .

Please bear with us! Amy

December 7, 2008 at 8:51 pm
(10) betruthful says:

Nastia is not artistic. She just look it cuz most others now are really bad. she not on same level as greats and she also win against no gymnasts of all time great.
Miller is the only choice.

December 11, 2008 at 7:02 pm
(11) Tyler says:

Although people may perfer power to artistry, a gymnast has to have artistry like mrparke007 said, which Shawn does not have. Nastia is without a doubt artistic, which has nothing to do with how bad others are artistically. You can compare her to artistic gymnasts from the past to prove how artistic she is.
Although these two are great, Shannon Miller is the best american gymnast. She should have been Olympic Champion in 1992 and I believe she qualified to all event finals, which was extremely hard back with that tough competition. Which Shawn and Nastia do not have. She also got two more gold medals at the next Olympics. It just can’t be an opinion, Shannon is the best.

April 22, 2009 at 10:28 pm
(12) Lauren says:

Where is Courtney Kupets on this list? She’s done it all…World Champion, Olympic Medalist, has REDEFINED excellence in collegiate competition…she definitely gets my vote!

April 27, 2009 at 9:57 pm
(13) Jenn says:

I think it is really sad that more than half of the people that voted for Shawn probably have never even heard of the other great gymnasts before her. I work at a gymnastics club in Texas … and I am absolutely mortified at the fact that we mention Miller and McNamara and Dawes and the girls do not even know who they are. But they are all about Shawn Johnson. I’m not harping on Shawn at all … she’s a very good gymnast and a great person … but all the hype is really getting to be ridiculous. She is definitely not the best gymnast in US History … and I think that it really is sad that some people think so.

May 20, 2009 at 6:39 am
(14) Tamara says:

Hi Pam and others – Im a bit surprised Dominique Moceanu is on the list. Ofcourse, a fabulous gymnast (and a beautiful woman), but I probably wouldnt rate her as the “the best” (Or a candidate)…..I guess I tend to look at longevity, among other factors…how about Mohini Bhardwaj? Her college career and her “come back” into elite gymnastics were absolutely FAB!

September 20, 2009 at 7:46 am
(15) Katie says:

who ever is saying shannon miller, are complete idiots she chokes alot just like dominique dawes, she is a great gymnast when she could hit her routine. She was way to injury prone and she wasnt always there for her team, like in 1993 she got injured and just left home instead of being there for the team, she was also way to inconsistent and a big baby, everyone has injuries and yet she always brought up that her wrist was “killing her” and at 2000 olympic trials she said in a interview that both her knees were stiff her other leg was fine how come could she just say that she reinjured it cause she did land hyperextended, Nastia is the best, way more consistent, as many medals as shannon miller, tough mentally and physically, in 2007 if shannon miller had a chronic ankle injury as bad as nastias she would have withdrew. And Nastia routines do have artistry with a rythmyic flare which i think is refreshing, it looks clean and more elegant… Go Nastia liukin all the way

May 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm
(16) maryphs says:

Shannon Miller is the best American gymnast and Shawn Johnson is my favorite American gymnast. :)

May 3, 2011 at 12:03 am
(17) Anonymous says:

I think that everyone’s opinion as to who is the “best” gymnast is individual and depends a lot on the context of time and situation. I thought Shannon Miller, Nastia Liukin, and Shawn Johnson were all great in their unique way. Shannon Miller was unquestionably the best American female gymnast among those sent to the 1992 and 1996 Games, having won more medals than anyone else and with tough competition. While Nastia Liukin may not have had the same level of competition or won quite as many medals as Shannon Miller did, Leukin did execute an artistic style that was somewhat comparable to Miller’s and actually performed technically more consistently in the Olympics than Miller did (fewer mistakes on vault and floor while doing just as well on beam and bars). Shawn Johnson’s powerhouse style can be compared to Kim Zmeskal’s and Carly Patterson’s, but I thought Johnson’s performance was technically more consistent and with a higher level of difficulty than Zmeskal’s, and she seemed to have more personality than Patterson did. A person’s opinion as to who is “best” also depends on a spectator’s personal taste. Some prefer a more dainty, balletic style and some prefer a tougher, more athletic style. I think all the gymnasts are talented to some degree, or they would not make the Olympics in the first place.

June 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm
(18) Anonymous says:

On a separate note, I forgot to mention this: I wonder why nobody cast even one vote for Kerri Strug. Yes, I have to admit that her performances on beam and floor were not exactly the most graceful, but she was absolutely phenomenal on that final vault in the 1996 team competition that secured the first team gold medal for the American ladies’ team in history. None of the other girls on that team — not even Shannon Miller, who had the highest overall score — came close to sticking the landing on the vault. Because of Dominique Moceanu’s unfortunate falls on this event, Strug might have had an opportunity to compete in the all-around and possibly even be in medal contention in the Vault Event Final if it hadn’t been for her grave injuries. We could have certainly used her help in Sydney where many gymnasts really struggled with this event.

November 16, 2013 at 12:51 am
(19) Lydia says:

What about Alicia Sacramone? She won 10 World Medals!

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