In this week’s Olympic Flashback, GladiatHers.com celebrates the 20 year anniversary of one of the most memorable endings to the team gymnastics competition ever. In 1996 in Atlanta, GA, the US Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team set out to do something that no American women’s team had ever done before, win gold. The team, often referred to as the Magnificent Seven, was comprised of heavy hitters: Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, and Jaycie Phelps. With expectations high, the ladies and Coach Bella Karolyi set out to upset gymnastics powerhouses and reigning Olympic and World Champions, Russia and Romania.
Team USA put on an electrifying performance throughout the competition, meeting all of the pro-USA crowd’s expectations. After completing the uneven bars, beam and floor exercises, the Magnificent Seven was in first place heading to the final event, the vault. While Team USA held first place, their lead was not insurmountable, so the ladies needed solid performances to hold off the Russians who were pounding away on the mat. The ladies started off well with Phelps, Chow, Miller, and Dawes all giving strong showings, and they needed Moceanu to score an unextraordinary 9.430. Moceanu, however, couldn’t come through. She fell on both vaults and only scored a 9.200.
The world watched as Strug lined up at the vault’s runway. She powered down towards the vault for her first jump, soared through the air, landed and fell on her back attempting the same vault that Moceanu had just attempted. While Moceanu was able to hop back up from her falls, Strug was not so lucky. Immediately when she stood up from the first vault, it was clear that she had injured her left ankle. With Olympic gold on her shoulders Strug limped back to the beginning of the vault’s runway to prepare for her next vault. If she stuck the vault, Team USA would win gold, if not, Russia would be the likely champion.* As Karolyi yelled, “You can do it, Kerri,” Strug dug deep, ignored the pain and charged the runway. She landed on the springboard, flipped over the vault, turned through the air and landed on the mat…on one leg. The crowd went wild, Strug scored a 9.712, secured gold for the Magnificent Seven and was immediately carried off to the medical tent. Strug reemerged in Karolyi’s arms with her ankle wrapped in a medical boot; she had sustained a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage.
After her courageous performance Strug became a national hero, but retired shortly after. She went on to complete her education at UCLA and Stanford; work as an elementary school teacher, at the White House and as an Olympic correspondent; and marry and start a family. While Strug would not go on to compete in any more Olympics, her performance in 1996 showed the world what it meant to be an Olympian.
*It was later determined that because of Russia’s scores in the floor exercises, Moceanu’s 9.200 was sufficient for Team USA to win gold.
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