Kerri Strug’s heroic performance at the 1996 Olympic Games insured the United States’ first-ever team gold medal in Women’s Gymnastics. She was recipient of the 1996 Olympic Spirit Award.
Strug participated in five World Championships, winning Team silver medals in 1991 (at age of 13) and 1994, and a team bronze in 1995. At the 1992 Olympic Games, she won a bronze medal in team combined exercises. From 1991 until retiring as an amateur following the 1996 Olympics, she was coached by Bela and Martha Karolyi,
The diminutive 4’9”, 88-pound American gave the Olympic Games one of its memorable moments on July 23, 1996. As the final U.S. performer in the vault event and the U.S. Women’s Team on the brink of capturing its first-ever gymnastics gold medal, U.S. coaches and Olympic media estimated that the American team needed points only Kerri could provide in her final set of vaults to give the Yanks the championship.
But, in her first vault, the 17-year old Arizonan fell and suffered torn ligaments and a third degree sprain in her left ankle. In severe pain and barely able to walk, she consulted with coach Bela Karolyi, then opted to attempt her second (final) vault. Fellow competitors, arena spectators, and a massive world TV audience held its collective breath as Strug readied herself, then sprinted towards the vault apparatus. She was virtually flawless, nailing a near perfect landing. The gold medal in Women’s Gymnastics-Team belonged to the United States.
A member of the U.S. Senior Gymnastics Team from 1991 to 1997, specializing in Floor Exercises and Uneven Bars, Strug won her first U.S. national title in the All-Around event in 1989 at American Classic in Oakland, CA. In 1991, she was #1 in the Vault and third in All-Around at the U.S. Championships. She would go on to finish #1, #2 or #3––individual or team––in virtually every U.S. national and international competition she entered for the next five years.