120 years, 120 stories (Part 45) : Kerri Strug, her broken ankle and an Olympic gold

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Kerri Strug is that person who will always be remembered in the Olympics history for her sacrifice and dedication that eventually earned her and her country a well-deserved Olympic gold in 1996.

We have already brought to you the stories of two extraordinary gymnasts – Nadia Comaneci, the girl who scored a perfect ten and Mary Lou Retton, who recovered from a knee injury to grab five medals in the 1984 Olympics. In this edition of our special Olympic diaries, we recall yet another female gymnast who surprised the world with her determination, dedication and attitude, only twenty years ago.

Kerri Strug was born in Arizona, United States in 1977 and started training in gymnastics at the age of three. She began participating in the competitive gymnastics events since she was eight and soon, she caught the attention with her performances. Strug was a part of the United States national team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At the age of 14, she was the youngest of the team that went on to win the bronze medal in the tournament. The talented young girl then performed brilliantly at the 1993 Nationals. She was placed 3rd in the all-around, 2nd on the uneven bars, and 3rd on floor exercise. It was in the writing that she would go on to become a gymnastics legend in the near future.

However, the journey was not at all smooth. Kerri Strug always suffered from injuries and it started right after 1992. Strug went to Oklahoma after the Barcelona Olympics to start training under a new coach and the first thing happened to her was severe weight loss and a serious injury to her stomach. But, she recovered on time to claim her fame in the aforementioned 1993 nationals, albeit it was not the end of her injury problems.

In 1994, while performing the compulsory uneven bars set, Strug pinged off the bar and released it too early. As a consequence, she was not able to make the transition to low bar and lost control. The young gymnast, to her utter dismay, flew off the high bar backwards and landed in a twisted position. It was a severe injury, a badly pulled back muscle, and she had to be carried out on a stretcher. Strug required extensive rehabilitation to get ready for the 1994 World Championships.

But again, it was not the last injury she had. The biggest one was yet to come, and it came in possibly the worst time! Kerri Strug had her most serious affliction during the 1996 Olympics, when she was in the middle of her performances.

Strug was an invaluable part of the United States national gymnastics team in 1996 Atlanta Olympics. This 7-girl team, called the ‘magnificent seven’ owing to their amazing displays in the event, were undoubtedly the most famous to clinch the top honours. It happened, but it came at a cost.

The American women’s team had a nice 0.897-point lead over their opponents, the Russian team, when the final rotation started. It was the Russians on the floor exercise and the Americans on the vault in that rotation and the Russians could only snatch the gold only if the U.S. women collapsed. Unfortunately for the favourites, however unlikely that might had been, all of the first four U.S. gymnasts fumbled in the final rotation. They struggled to land them and took steps and hops, thereby causing some trouble for the team. Moreover, Dominique Moceanu fell twice and registered a poor score and it all came down to Kerri Strug who was the last one to vault for the ‘magnificent seven’.

It is immensely difficult to describe in words what happened next! The reader is advised to take a look at the video below to understand the magnitude of the event.

The 19 year old started her run for the vault and perfectly executed it, but could not finish it in style. She under-rotated the landing of her first attempt. As a result, she fell and damaged her ankle. Because of the poor landing, Strug was awarded 9.162 points and after her Russian opponent Roza Galieva performed, Strug needed to land a second vault on her feet to mathematically clinch the gold for her country.

Suffering with pain, the youngster asked her coach, Bela Károlyi, if it was absolutely needed and the coach 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.” A determined Kerri Strug took her position, with the crowd waiting anxiously. Albeit she limped slightly as she prepared for the final display, the teenager never showed any sign of pain whatsoever as she started her run. This time, Strug landed the vault perfectly, on both her feet, and at once, started hopping onto only her good foot, saluting the judges. Soon after, she collapsed onto her knees, but she did her job! Her score of 9.712 guaranteed the Americans the gold they longed for.

Later, Kerri Strug had to be carried to the podium by her coach as she accepted her well-deserved gold medal. She went on to become a national hero and earned many accolades from the country. However, her injury was so brutal that she could not continue her journey in the gymnastics at the top level. The world, however, will always remember her for her strong character and the determination she showed at that age!

 

What do you think of the dedication Kerri Strug showed? Share your views in the comments below!

Photo by margaretglin

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