The United States of America had never won team gold in gymnastics before.?
Not only had they not won, but the Russians had almost never lost. Going into the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996, Russia was riding a 44-year winning streak for women's gymnastics - not collecting a gold medal only in 1984, when the Soviets boycotted the games in Los Angeles, a competition they almost certainly would have dominated if not for Cold-War tensions between the Soviet Union and President Ronald Reagan.?
The U.S. had managed to eke out a bronze medal in 1992 in Barcelona, with a team that contained a then 14-year-old Keri Strug, but a Unified Team of former Soviets after the collapse of the Soviet Union had beaten them by nearly a full point - a blowout in team gymnastics. To say there was a favorite leading into the 96 Olympics would be an understatement.?
When the competition started, the U.S. team actually got out to a significant early lead. So much so that Russian star Svetlana Chorkina was found sobbing before her team even began its final exercise. That lead began to evaporate, however, when U.S. team member Shannon Miller short-stepped a landing on her vault. It all fell apart when 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu fell on both of her vaults. It was beginning to look more and more like the U.S. team would need a heroic performance to finally lift itself above the Russians. ?? ?
As the last U.S. vaulter, Keri Strug would have to be that hero. She sprinted toward the vaulting horse, powering herself off the springboard and launching into the air. As she came down, however, she managed to underrotate her last somersault, driving her left heel into the mat, spraining her ankle and sending her backward to the floor. She had one shot, and one leg, left.
With a lifetime of preparation, legends can be made in a fraction of a second.?
Strug limped back to the starting line, where legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi waited.
"Give me one last vault; give me one last good vault."?
"I will, I will, I will." she replied.?
When her legs hit the mat from her second attempt, Keri Strug heard her ankle snap. Pain radiated up her leg from the ligaments which had just been torn from their already tenuous posts. She immediately transferred her weight to her right leg, turning twice to face each of the judges tables before she collapsed onto the mat, from which she would have to be carried straight to the first aid station under the Georgia Dome stands.?
The 9.712 score from Keri Strug's second vault would assure the Americans with their first ever team gymnastics victory.?
Fear is an illusion, but greatness is a habit.?
Until next time,?
John - Founder, IGWM