Born in Tucson
on November 19
Kerri Strug spent six years on the U.S. National Team and competed in two Olympic Games
. She began gymnastics at just three years old, following her elder sister Lisa into the sport. In January 1991
, Strug left home to join renowned coach Bela Karolyi
at his training center in Houston, TX
. At age 14, she was the youngest of the American
team in Barcelona's 1992 Olympics
, and returned to the United States
with a bronze medal
from the team competition.
Karolyi decided to retire after that Olympiad, and Strug bounced from gym to gym, having three coaches in three years. She returned home to recuperate from a torn stomach muscle, then re-entered competition. In August 1994, Strug fell from the uneven bars during a small meet in California, injuring her neck and back. Doctors warned she may not walk again, but after six months she returned to training. Still in her hometown, she graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA in 1995. She had been accepted to UCLA but opted instead to rejoin Karolyi, who had come out of retirement to coach former Olympian Kim Zmeskal and rising star Dominique Moceanu.
After being in other gymnasts' shadows for years, Strug was catapulted to international fame during the final rotation of the team competition of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. After uncharacteristically poor performances by the Russian and Romanian teams, the U.S. team was poised to win the gold medal. After Strug's first vault, NBC commentator John Tesh announced that she needed to score a 9.5 on her second vault to secure a gold medal. Athletes cannot hear the commentators and gymnasts are taught not to keep track of scores, so Strug's only distraction was her left ankle - which she had injured during the first vault, yet she managed not only to complete the run and the vault - one and one-half twists from a roundoff entry - but to stick the landing and salute the judges before collapsing to her knees in tears. The average of both vault scores was a 9.712, and the Magnificent Seven became the first Americans to win a team gold medal in women's gymnastics. Strug was later awarded the Olympic Spirit Award alongside track and field athlete Carl Lewis.
After the Olympics, Strug appeared with her teammates on a Wheaties box, and on the cover of several magazines. She made guest appearances on Beverly Hills 90210, Saturday Night Live, and Touched by an Angel, and in November 1997 released an autobiography entitled Landing on My Feet: A Diary of Dreams. She attended Stanford University as a communications major, and joined the campus bowling team and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.