Spirit – 1996 Olympics

Up until 1996, USA Women’s Gymnastics had never won a team gold medal. That summer in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States team pulled off amazing task thanks to the unbreakable spirit of one of their athletes. 

Teenager Kerri Strug was the last team member to vault for the US.  Going into the final rotation, with the Russians on floor exercise and the U.S. on vault, the U.S. women held a commanding 0.897-point lead over the Russian team. At that point, it was possible for the Russians to take the gold if the U.S. women collapsed. The first four U.S. gymnasts landed their vaults, but struggled to land them cleanly, taking steps and hops. Adding to the drama, Strug's teammate Dominique Moceanu fell twice, registering a poor score. 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. As a result, the attempt was awarded 9.162 points. Retrospectively, after a poor performance from the final Russian Roza Galieva on floor, Moceanu's score (9.200) would have been sufficient to beat the Russians even if Strug had not performed a second vault, as the lowest score for each team was dropped. However, Galieva performed after Strug and landed her attempt. Therefore Strug needed to land a second vault on her feet in order to mathematically clinch the gold. The only problem was Strug was injured and it showed as she walked.

In the time interval between Strug's two vaults, she asked, "Do we need this?" her teammate 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." Strug thus limped to the end of the runway to make her second attempt. She landed the vault briefly on both feet, almost instantly hopping onto only her good foot, saluting the judges. She then collapsed onto her knees and needed assistance off the landing platform, to which sportscaster John Tesh commented, "Kerri Strug is hurt! She is hurt badly." The completed vault received score of 9.712, guaranteeing the Americans the gold medal.

  • When Kerri’s body began falter, where did she find strength?
  • What gives the body its strength and energy?
  • How can we strengthen the spirit of this team?