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American Gymnast Kerri Strug Provided the Olympic’s Most Amazing Moment

Kerri Strug, The Magnificent Seven, Women's Gymnastics

The modern Olympics have always had a great deal of excitement and unexpected events. One of the most exciting events has always been women’s gymnastics. Whether it was Nadia Comaneci’s magical performance in 1976, or Mary Lou Retton’s first American women’s individual all-around gold medal in 1984, or the Fab Five’s monstrous team win in 2012, this Olympic event has always been sure to excite fans and casual observers alike. Part of the allure is that you just never know what is going to happen. In fact, women’s gymnastics provided the event that I believe was the most surprising athletic performance in modern Olympic history. This single event embodies everything that the Olympics stand for.

On July 23, 1996 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia the American women’s gymnastics team stood on the doorstep of history. No American women’s gymnastics team had ever won an all-around team gold medal. On the evening of the 23 rd the team that would become known as The Magnificent Seven stood on the doorstep of making history by winning the team gold – then the unthinkable happened in the final event, the vault. First the Americans had two consecutive falls on the vault. But as the final American competitor stood at the end of the runway the team only needed her to score 9.493 to secure the gold.

As Kerri Strug started down the runway on her first vault everyone knew she must be feeling enormous pressure with the fate of the team gold and US Olympic history on her shoulders. As she executed a very good vault no one could have foreseen how much worse that pressure was going to be.

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I can remember standing up in shear excitement at the thought of such a historic event. Then on her landing Strug fell for the third straight American fall. As she got up it was obvious that she was hurt, and perhaps hurt badly. She limped as she walked back up the runway for her second vault. With the fall her first vault score was nowhere near what the Americans needed to secure the gold medal.

As I watched on television I was thinking if she couldn’t make the landing uninjured, there was no way she could pull off a landing with an injured leg. I almost turned off the television thinking it was all over. But I and millions of others around the world kept watching as Strug began her run up towards her second vault.

In retrospect it was an amazing feat of pure willpower for her to simply make that run up the runway for the vault. I think that alone made her performance a testament to the human spirit and an American never give up attitude. Then she vaulted into the air and I thought for sure she would fall. I was completely stunned as Strug not only stayed upright on the landing but hit virtually a perfect vault landing on one leg. As Strug raised her arms to conclude the vault the Americans’ dream of a first gold medal was suddenly once again in reach. Strug dropped to the mat in what appeared to be extreme pain, but she had done it. Her score. 9.712 was more than sufficient to secure the gold medal. The fairytale ending was completed with Strug being carried to the medal stand to stand with her teammates, on one leg, to accept the gold medal.

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I count this as the Olympic’s most amazing moment for several reasons. First is the historical significance of the Magnificent Seven winning America’s first women’s gymnastics team gold. More importantly though I think Strug embodied everything the Olympics stand for by producing a magnificent performance under high pressure and by overcoming extraordinary adversity in doing so. But Strug’s gutsy performance went even beyond the Olympic spirit. Strug was in the hunt to qualify for the women’s individual all-around competition. She must have known as she limped up the runway for her second vault that vaulting again could worsen her injury and take her out of the remaining women’s gymnastics events. But she put her own individual interests aside and risked it all for her teammates. Had she not done so American Olympic gymnastics history would not have been made that night. Even today watching a Youtube video of the television broadcast of Strug’s final two vaults I still feel chills like it was all happening for the first time. What else could you ask for as the most exciting and surprising Olympic moment ever.