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|— Gymnast —|
|Born|| November 19, 1977 |
|— Gymnast —|
|Born|| November 19, 1977 |
Kerri Allyson Strug (born November 19, 1977) is a retired American gymnast from Tucson, Arizona. She was a member of the Magnificent Seven, the victorious all-around women's gymnastics team that represented the United States at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and is best remembered for performing the vault despite having injured her ankle and for subsequently being carried to the podium by her coach, Béla Károlyi.
Kerri began training in gymnastics at the age of three. She began competing in gymnastics at the age of eight. Her sister Lisa was already competing in gymnastics at the time that Strug was born. Strug was trained by American coach Jim Gault until January 1991, when she moved to Houston, Texas to train with coach Béla Károlyi. At that time, she also 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 Compulsories 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.
Coach Béla Károlyi retired after the 1992 Games, leaving Strug to decide whether to continue gymnastics with a different coach or quit. Strug 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 serious injury to her stomach. It was bad, but she eventually got better.
At the 1993 Nationals, Strug placed 3rd in the all-around, 2nd on the uneven bars, and 3rd on floor exercise. 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 Strug'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, Strug graduated 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. Strug 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 Béla Károlyi came out of retirement. She moved back to Houston to train with Károlyi in preparation for the 1996 Olympics. She beat the competition at the 1996 American Cup in the AA by almost 0.5 points, 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, Strug placed 5th in the AA and came in 2nd on both vault and floor.
Strug participated in the 1996 Olympics as a member of the U.S. women's team, often referred to as the Magnificent Seven. After compulsories, Strug 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 after the team final and ahead of eventual FX Gold Medalist 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, Romanian, and Ukrainian 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, 1996.
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. To add 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 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 therefore Strug needed to land a second vault on her feet in order to mathematically clinch the gold.
In the time interval between Strug's two vaults, she asked, "Do we need this?" Károlyi 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 slightly 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. Károlyi 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. Due to her injury, she was unable to compete in the individual all-around competition and event finals, despite having qualified for both; so Moceanu was chosen to take her place in those events.
Strug became a national sports hero for her final vault, 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 (as her "brother" Kippi Strug,) 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.
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 where she earned a Master's degree in Sociology. Strug also took part in a Semester at Sea in the Fall of 2000.
After graduation, Strug worked as an elementary school teacher at Tom Matsumoto Elementary School in San Jose, CA before moving to Washington, D.C. in 2003.
She worked as a staff assistant with the U.S. Office of Presidential Student Correspondence, moved to a job at 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.
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.
Strug is Jewish.