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Medal record
Women's gymnastics
Competitor for the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold 1996 Atlanta Team
Bronze 1992 Barcelona Team
World Championships
Silver 1994 Dortmund Team
Bronze 1995 Sabae Team

Kerri Allyson Strug (born November 19, 1977) is an American gymnast from Tucson, Arizona. She was a member of the Magnificent Seven, the gymnastics team that represented the United States at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and is remembered for performing the vault despite having seriously injured her ankle, to clinch a gold medal in the women's team competition.

Contents

Biography

Career, pre-1996 Olympics

Strug's sister, Lisa, began competing in gymnastics when she was eight years old, before Kerri was even born. Kerri Strug began gymnastics at a young age and, like her sister, competed for the first time when she was eight. Strug was trained by American coach Jim Gault until she moved to Béla Károlyi in January 1991 and joined the United States National Team. In 1992, at age 14, she won a team bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics, at which she was the youngest member of the entire U.S. team. Throughout the Team Compulsiories and Optionals, she and Kim Zmeskal competed for the final US available spot to compete in the all-around. She was eventually edged out by Zmeskal, with Shannon Miller and Betty Okino as the other two American gymnasts to qualify for the all-around.

Karolyi retired from coaching after the 1992 Games, leaving Strug to decide whether to continue gymnastics with a different coach or quit. Kerri chose to move to Edmond, Oklahoma to train under the coaching of Steve Nunno at the Dynamo Gymnastics Club, where she trained with Shannon Miller. There, she struggled with severe weight loss and a very serious injury to her stomach.

At the 1993 Nationals, Kerri placed 3rd in the all-around, 2nd on the uneven bars, and 3rd on floor exercise.[1] She completed the Yurchenko ½ vault. However, she had a weak second vault and did not medal in that event. After this competition, Strug left Edmond to return home to Tucson, Arizona where she trained with Arthur Akopian, who flew in from California to train her, with the assistance of Jim Gault. Gault was Kerri's coach when she started gymnastics at age 3.

While performing the compulsory uneven bars set in 1994, she pinged off the bar, subsequently releasing too early to be able to make the transition to low bar. She lost control and flew off the high bar backwards, landing in a twisted position on her side beneath the low bar. She was carried out of the gym on a stretcher and was taken to Desert Regional Hospital. The injury turned out to be a badly pulled back muscle, which required extensive rehabilitation. She recovered in time for the 1994 World Championships.

In 1995, Kerri graduated a year ahead of schedule from Green Fields Country Day School in Tucson, Arizona. Eventually, the coaching arrangement with Gault/Akopian became untenable as Gault was restricted in his coaching by NCAA recruiting rules. Kerri once again left home, in July 1995, to train at Aerials Gymnastics in Colorado Springs, Colorado with Tom and Lori Forster. Later that year, at the 1995 Nationals, Strug placed 5th in the AA (All-Around competition) and came in 3rd on the UB (Uneven Bars). At the 1995 World Championships, she was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team, and she placed 7th in the AA.

She trained with the Forsters from July 1995 until December 1995, when Bela Karolyi came out of retirement. She moved back to Houston to train with Karolyi in preparation for the 1996 Olympics. She beat the competition at the 1996 American Cup in the AA by almost 0.5 points,[2] which was a huge margin under the old scoring system. She also placed 1st on FX (Floor Exercises) and BB (Balance Beam) and 2nd on V (Vault) and UB in the event finals. At the 1996 U.S. Nationals, Kerri placed 5th in the AA and came in 2nd on both vault and floor.

1996 Olympics

Strug participated in the 1996 Olympics as a member of the U.S. women's team, often referred to as the Magnificent 7. After compulsories, Kerri was ranked 9th overall and had placed high enough to qualify herself for the all-around. She posted the second highest score on floor exercise — but qualified first in floor exercise event finals, ahead of Lilia Podkopayeva — and 4th highest on vault, which would qualify her for event finals in her two strongest events. In the team competition, an event dominated by the Russians for decades and never won by the United States, the U.S. competed with the Russian teams. The Russians came into the team competition with a very narrow lead. The event came down to the final rotation on the final day of the team competition, July 23.

In the final rotation, with the Russians on floor exercise, the U.S. women held a commanding 0.897-point[3] lead over the Russian team. But those on the gymnastics floor, including Bela Karolyi, believed that the U.S. team still needed a good score on the vault to win gold. The Russian women were capable of very high scores on floor exercise and they had two of their strongest athletes yet to compete. At that point, it was possible for the Russians to take the gold if the US women collapsed. Strug’s teammate Dominique Moceanu fell on both of her vaults, registering poor scores. Strug was the last to vault for the United States.

Strug under-rotated the landing of her first attempt, causing her to fall and damage her ankle. Despite this, the attempt was awarded 9.162 points.[3] Retrospectively, even with Moceanu's 9.200 score, the U.S. already had sufficient scores to beat the Russians even had Strug failed to vault at all, as the lowest score among the six vaulters for each team was dropped. The American coaches, however, had not been keeping track of the scores and when Strug's injury was apparent, and her score was revealed, they were unable to compute whether a higher score would be necessary in the 30 seconds before she had to vault again.[3][4][5]

"In the excitement of the moment, I think they forgot how to add. I was wondering why she went again. I thought, Gosh, that's brave when she really doesn't have to do it."

—Jackie Fie, international gymnastics official at the table in Atlanta[5]

Indeed, there was significant confusion over what precisely was needed for the Americans to secure gold. NBC commentator John Tesh indicated to the American television audience, prior to Strug's first vault, that "if Kerri Strug can score a 9.493 or better, then she will win the team gold for the USA". Thus, the 9.162 she scored for her first vault was, according to NBC's math, insufficient. Bela Karolyi believed the number to be about a 9.6.[6]

Given the short 30-second interval allowed between vaulting attempts, a precise mathematical determination was eschewed for a simple question from Strug to Bela Karolyi. When she asked, "Do we need this?"[5] Karolyi 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."[3] Strug thus limped slightly to the end of the runway for her second attempt. She landed the vault briefly on both feet, almost instantly hopping onto only her good foot. Strug raised her arms after her vault, saluting the judges. She then needed assistance off the landing platform due to the injury, to which Tesh commented, "Kerri Strug is hurt! She is hurt badly." The completed vault received score of 9.712, which ended all doubt about whether the Americans would receive the gold.[3][4] Karolyi carried her onto the medals podium to join her team, after which she was treated at a hospital for a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage.[3][4] Due to her injury, she was unable to compete in the individual all-around competition and event finals, despite having qualified for both.[6]

Although one cannot argue Kerri's determination and desire for the American's to win the team gold medal, many people also point out Kerri's personal interest in performing a second vault. In 1996, the top 36 gymnasts who had competed in all four events in the team competition, were eligible to advance to the individual all-around competition; however, each team was capped at sending only three athletes to the event. The same rule was in place in 1992 when Kerri was narrowly edged out of the All-Around by teammate Kim Zmeskal who had climbed back after a fall off the balance beam in compulsories to finish within the top three on the American team. Kerri had always been in the shadows of gymnasts like Kim, Shannon Miller, and Dominique Moceanu, and was coming off of an All-Around win at the American Cup (although several other top athletes did not participate in this event). After Kerri performed very well on floor and vault in compulsories and performed exceptionally on floor in the optional portion of the competition, Dominique Moceanu's fall on vault put the two gymnasts(who were in a head to head competition for the final All-Around spot on the American team) at a virtual lock and gave Kerri a huge opportunity to finally be recognized as one of the best gymnasts in the United States. If Kerri performed a clean vault, there was no question that she would post a higher overall total than Moceanu, and she would advance to the Individual All-Around. Kerri was also a known vaulter, and without a second vault, she would not advance to the individual event finals in vault.

Many people also suggest that the notion that the coaches, who had done this for a living for many years, had lost track of the scores is a ridiculous idea. Although it's possible, it is more likely that the American team didn't want to end the competition with three falls in a row. Moceanu was also injured during the '96 games, so Kerri was arguably Bela's best shot at having an athlete medal in the All-Around competition. To be fair, gymnastics is an individual sport at its core, and Kerri had never been given the recognition that she probably deserved. There was widespread speculation during the 1992 Olympic Trials that Bela had watered down Kerri's routine on bars as to not overshadow Zmeskal's bar set which was by far her weakest event. Kerri and Zmeskal had a very similar build and haircut circa 1992 making it somewhat difficult to even distiniguish them from one another from a distance while they were competing, and as a result, Kerri was often compared to Zmeskal, yet she never reached the same status as her Karolyi teammate. Kerri had always been placed in a secondary role, even within the Karolyi gym, first to Zmeskal and later to Moceanu. Bela Karolyi left retirement to coach Moceanu, not Kerri, and this fact was always apparent and often discussed. Even when Kerri had to leave Karolyi after the '92 Games, she played second fiddle to Shannon Miller at Dynamo, Steve Nunno's gym. The 1996 Olympics was her time to shine, and although she still achieved that desired outcome, it came at a price, not having the opportunity to win any individual medals.

Strug became a national sports hero for her courageous finish, visiting President Bill Clinton, appearing at various television talk shows, making the cover of Sports Illustrated and appearing on a Wheaties cereal box with other team members. Actor Chris Kattan notably parodied her adolescent-sounding voice and appearance on Saturday Night Live (in a segment in which she appeared alongside him). ESPN's "This is SportsCenter" ad campaign poked good-natured fun at her injury with two ads featuring various ESPN workers carrying her around.

Professional career and college

Shortly after her feat, Strug participated in the Ice Capades and Disney's World On Ice, then announced her retirement and enrolled in UCLA where she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. As a professional, she could not compete in NCAA gymnastics events, so she worked for a time as team manager instead, a behind the scenes role. She later transferred to Stanford University. After all this, she went to another school to train.

After gymnastics

After graduation, Strug worked as an elementary school teacher in the San Francisco, Bay Area before moving to Washington, D.C. in 2003. One of the schools she worked at was Tom Matsumoto Elementary School.

She worked as a staff assistant with the U.S. Office of Presidential Student Correspondence, moved to a job at the Office of the General Counsel in the Treasury Department, and in March 2005, joined the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention staff as a presidential appointee. Strug has also been an active marathon runner, having run marathons in Houston, New York, Boston and Chicago.[7]

During the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Strug was a correspondent for Yahoo! in artistic gymnastics. In 2008, she appeared in a television commercial for the Zaxby's restaurant chain. Also in 2008, her history-making ordeal at the 1996 Olympic games was featured in a commercial, narrated by actor Morgan Freeman for the "Go World" campaign.[8]She is engaged to be married to Robert Fischer on 25 April 2010.[9]

References

External links








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