Karen Belz
June 03, 2013 2:00 pm

One of my childhood dreams was to be a gymnast. Unfortunately, at the ripe old age of 12, I was already too old to start – that is, if the Olympics were in my future. Also, I couldn’t do a cartwheel. I was literally one of the only girls who wasn’t in the “Gymnast Club” on the playground based on my personal failures. It’s okay – I got over it.

Part of the reason as to why I dreamed so big was definitely based on the “Magnificent Seven.” In 1996, the Olympic Women’s gymnastics team was truly on top of the world. Everyone talked about how talented these young competitors were. Consisting of Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu, Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug, the team won the first ever Gold Medal for the United States in the Women’s Team Competition.

The most newsworthy of the win is Kerri Strug. Starting with gymnastics at the age of 8, she began her training with Romanian coach Bela Karolyi in 1991. Karolyi retired in 1992, which caused Strug to bounce around with a few different coaches, before he came out of retirement in 1995.  Strug was actually 14 in 1992, and had her first Olympic experience at the Barcelona Olympics, where she won a team bronze medal.

In 1996, The United States was neck-in-neck with Russia – a country known for taking home the gold in the sport. Going into the final rotation, with the Russians on floor exercise and the U.S. on vault, the U.S. women held a 0.897-point lead, which meant that if the U.S. crumbled on their last event, they’d lose yet again. Dominique Moceanu, the youngest on the team, had fallen on both attempts at the vault before Strug’s turn, which put a lot of pressure on her to succeed.

Strug under-rotated the landing of her first vault, causing her to fall and damage her ankle – she needed to land on both feet during her second go, in order to make sure the US got the gold.

After Strug’s first vault, when she realized she was injured, she asked her coach “Do we need this? Karolyi replied, “Kerri, we need you to go one more time. We need you one more time for the gold. You can do it, you better do it.” Limping to the runway for her second attempt, she landed the vault briefly on both feet, hopped onto her good foot, saluted the judges, and collapsed. The completed vault received score of 9.712, guaranteeing the Americans the gold medal.

Strug was carried to the podium by Karolyi to accept her medal, and soon after was treated at the hospital for a third degree sprain and tendon damage. Talk about being a team player.

Kerri’s second vault was a pretty monumental event in sports history – she could have done severe damage to herself, but she was willing to risk it if it meant achieving her goal. Her perseverance, at such a young age, was pretty inspiring.

Did you see the 1996 Olympic Games on TV?

Image Credits: sportsillustrated.cnn.combleacherreport.com (featured)

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