Grinning through the pain and hobbling on a sprained ankle, Kerri Strug performed the vault that would clinch the first team gold for a US Olympic gymnastics team at the 1996 games. That moment went down in history, and this member of the Magnificent Seven more than earned her retirement.
Destined for greatness
Kerri Allyson Strug Fischer was born on November 19th, 1977 in Tucson, Arizona. Following in her sister’s footsteps, she began training in gymnastics at the age of three, and by eight years old, she was already competing.
In 1991, she moved to Houston, Texas to train with coach Béla Károlyi and join the United States National Team. The very next year, she was competing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as the youngest member of the team.
After the 1992 Games, where they took home the bronze, Strug struggled with multiple injuries to her stomach and back, but she never let them hold her back from the sport she loved. She was back in perfect form in time for the next Olympics.
Strug powers through
The 1996 Olympics were the great turning point in Kerri Strug’s athletic career. After compulsories, she ranked 9th overall, and was ready to compete in the all-around. Before that however, were the team events.
Russia and the U.S. were neck and neck going into the final event - vault. Unfortunately, in the first rotation, Strug landed wrong on her ankle, spraining it severely. She was in horrible pain, and could barely put any weight on her foot.
To make matters worse, the first four U.S. gymnasts from the Magnificent Seven struggled to land their vaults cleanly, in the final rotation, and Dominique Moceanu fell twice, resulting in a poor score. This meant Strug had to complete another vault if she wanted her team to have a shot at the gold.
Even though her ankle was excruciating, Kerri Strug rose to the challenge. She took a deep breath, steadied herself, and sprinted toward the vault, jumping, twisting, and flipping to stick the landing perfectly.
She had left it all on the floor. Strug immediately collapsed from the pain, and was out for the rest of the competition - unable to compete in the all-around. But her work was done. Her sacrifice, and her score of 9.712, had earned America its first team gold and ushered in a new era of U.S. gymnastics.
The Magnificent Seven refused to walk out to the medal ceremony without Strug, and since she couldn’t walk, Béla Károlyi ended up carrying her out to accept the gold medal with her team.
Overnight, Strug became a national sports hero. She appeared on various talk shows, was put on the Wheaties cereal box, made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and had a visit with President Bill Clinton. She was America’s darling.
This was a double-edged sword. It paved the way for coaches to demand more from gymnasts, using Strug as an example of competing through the pain for the good of the team. Competing injured has actually become something of an expectation in the gymnastics world, that is, until Simone Biles stood up for her health at the 2020 Olympics.
But Strug didn’t ask to be a talking point, and she doesn’t regret what she did that day at the Olympics. She considers it the highlight of her career, and the launching pad for everything that was to come afterwards.
Since her retirement from the sport, Strug has been on SNL, gotten a Master’s degree, become a teacher, worked as a spokesperson for the Special Olympics, authored two books, and given birth to two beautiful children. She couldn’t be happier with how her life has turned out.
Strug was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, and she is now living in Washington D.C. with her family, where she is actively involved in the community and various gymnastics clubs and camps.
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