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Sloan still getting used to being world champion

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NANCY ARMOUR

With her photo splashed across the pages of Sports Illustrated and adoring fans tailing her at the mall, Bridget Sloan is officially a big deal.

Try telling her that, though.

Two months after winning the world gymnastics title, the 17-year-old is still getting used to all the extras that comes with being a champion. Like those little girls who stop her when she's shopping with friends, asking for an autograph or a picture.

"I'm like, 'Shouldn't you be following somebody cool?'" Sloan said.

Sloan joined Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Chellsie Memmel and Shawn Johnson as the only U.S. women to win the world title when she edged teammate Rebecca Bross on Oct. 16 in London.

"It is wild, I'm not going to lie," Sloan said from New York, where she was doing a media tour and some shopping Friday. "It's been very crazy."

With Johnson and Olympic champion Nastia Liukin both taking breaks from the sport, Sloan has made the transition from supporting cast to star with ease and confidence. She competes with the polish and authority that comes from being a key member of the team that won silver at the Beijing Olympics, and an alternate on the squad at the 2007 world championships.

She also recognizes that she's now a role model to young gymnasts throughout the country, and there's not an ounce of diva in her friendly, down-to-earth personality. Let loose in one of the world's shopping meccas Friday afternoon, the shopping enthusiast was instead on a mission for someone else. It was Ivana Hong's birthday Friday, and Sloan wanted to find her world championships roommate a present.

Not that Sloan could cop an attitude even if she wanted to.

Her fall break at Tri-West High School in suburban Indianapolis was shortly after she returned from worlds. Instead of spending it relaxing or celebrating, she was hunkered down at home, catching up on her homework.

Her friends at school, who aren't gymnasts, have learned not to call or text her when she's at a meet or a training camp. As for what Sloan is doing those weeks she's away from school? They're still a little fuzzy on that. (When Sloan said she was going to London for worlds, one asked her to bring back pictures from a Chelsea game).

"That's totally OK," Sloan said. "I'm well aware that what I do is crazy."

And she plans to keep doing it.

Though Sloan said she won't make a final decision on the 2012 Olympics until the year before - "I'm one of those people who doesn't jump ahead, I always stay in the present" - winning worlds in London gives her motivation to keep going.

Worlds were at the O2 Arena, where the gymnastics competition will be held in 2012.

"After I won I was like, 'Wow, I want to come back,'" she said. "That's my goal, to prove to everyone that I'm not done."

Sloan turned down an invitation to the American Cup in March. She's had little down time since before the Olympics and, if she does want to make it to London, has to give her body a break every once in a while.

But she's still on her regular training schedule and plans on being at the national team training camp in January.

And she's already looking forward to that first competition where she's introduced as the world champion.

"It's crazy. Honestly," she said. "I love it and hopefully I will keep it going. Hopefully my body will be like, 'All right, let's keep doing this.'"


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