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POSTCARD: ST. PETERSBURG : Coach Could Teach Soviets Some New Maneuvers Now

There is a monument here dedicated to Alfred Nobel, and perhaps there will be one some day dedicated to Ted Turner.

Nobel, the Swedish industrialist whose family owned pre-Revolution factories here, invented dynamite and created the Nobel prizes. Turner has been equally elusive of moral judgment, colorizing our favorite movies but creating the Goodwill Games.

Turner maintains that he did the latter in 1986 to promote cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union, and although there is suspicion that providing original sports programming for cable television operators also had something to do with it, there is at least one person who gives him the benefit of the doubt.

That is Steve Nunno, coach of the Dynamo Gymnastics team in Oklahoma. The team is representing the United States in the Goodwill Games women’s competition that began Saturday night. Among his charges is all-around world champion Shannon Miller.

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Nunno was a young coach with no money, no reputation and no gymnasts to speak of when he learned in 1986 that, in conjunction with the first Goodwill Games in Moscow, the Soviets were opening the doors of their famous gymnastics schools to U.S. coaches and gymnasts.

“Well, they didn’t exactly open everything to us,” said Nunno, who took out a loan to pay for his trip. “I came over with a video camera and got thrown out of three gyms.

“But I came over as a sponge and learned a tremendous amount, a lot of things that I still use today. They didn’t tell us everything, but they let us observe. That was more important to me because I wanted to see what they were doing.

“I had always heard that the Soviets were good because they beat their kids, whipped them. But they were having fun in training. I had heard how coarse they were. They couldn’t have been more gentle.

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“I asked about the differences in Soviet and American coaches. They said American coaches say 100 things and let the kids try one, while Soviet coaches say one thing and let the kids try 100. That’s exactly right. We talk too much and don’t let our kids have enough fun.”

One morning, Nunno went to a gym to watch a training session involving Soviet gymnasts and their young American visitors. There was one tiny 8-year-old from the United States who was so frustrated because she could not duplicate the Soviets’ movements that she was in tears.

Nunno inquired about her and discovered that she also was from Oklahoma.

“I think I can work with her,” he said.

Her name: Shannon Miller.


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