4 minute read

Kerri Strug

Triumph And Heartbreak

From the moment Strug began training with Karolyi, all aspects of her life were monitored by the notoriously demanding coach and his wife, Martha. Karolyi pushed Strug to her physical and mental limits to prepare her for international competition. Strug worked hard, and her efforts paid off. In 1991, she won first place in the vault at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, becoming the youngest female ever to win an event at this competition. The next year, she qualified for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and helped the women's team win a bronze medal. Her Olympic performance was bittersweet, however, because she narrowly missed making the individual all-around finals.

After the Olympics, Karolyi announced his retirement and Strug was left without a coach. Over the next few years, Strug bounced from gym to gym, moving to Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado, but she was unable to find a coach who could help her the way Karolyi had. Worse yet, Strug also experienced a number of debilitating injuries during this time period, including a torn stomach muscle that forced her to move back with her parents for six months to heal. In 1994, during a small competition, Strug fell off of the uneven bars and landed on her back, severely pulling her back muscles, which required another six-month break to heal. Despite these setbacks, Strug hoped to be competitive long enough to make it to the 1996 Olympics. Her ultimate dream was to compete in the Olympics' individual all-around finals that she had narrowly missed qualifying for in 1992.


1977 Born November 19 in Tucson, Arizona
1982 Begins gymnastics
1984 Noticed by a coach at Karolyi's summer camp, who encourages Strug's parents to have Kerri train full-time with Karolyi
1989 Begins training with Bela Karolyi
1989 Member of Junior Pacific Alliance Team
1990 Member of Junior Pan Am Games Team
1991 Member of World Gymnastics Championship Team
1992 Member of United States Olympic Team
1992 Karolyi announces retirement; Strug changes coaches repeatedly for next several years
1993 Member of Hilton Challenge Team
1994 Member of Team World Championship Team
1995 Graduates from high school a year ahead of schedule—with a perfect 4.0 GPA—and earns a scholarship to University of California, Los Angeles, but defers enrollment for a year so that she can train for the 1996 Olympics
1995 Resumes training with Karolyi, who had come out of retirement in 1994
1995 Member of World Champion Team
1996 Member of United States Olympic Team
1996 Performs historic vault on an injured ankle in final round of the women's gymnastics team competition to help United States women's gymnastics team win first ever gold medal
1996 Featured on the Wheaties cereal box with her Olympic teammates
1996 Appears on an episode of "Saturday Night Live," in which she makes fun of her infamous high-pitched voice
1997 Works as an intern on the sports staff of KNBC-TV in Los Angeles
1998 Works as an intern for Entertainment Tonight
1999 Competes in her first marathon
2001 Graduates from Stanford with a Communications degree
2001 Works as an intern for Republican Senator John McCain

Once again, she recognized that the key to trying to achieve her dreams was Bela Karolyi, who had come out of retirement in 1994. In 1995, she resumed training with Karolyi, who was coaching newcomer Dominique Moceanu—a young gymnast who had attracted attention when she won the all-around competition at the 1995 United States Gymnastics Championships. Most had high hopes for Moceanu, while Strug received little media attention. This trend remained true even after Strug won her first international competition at the McDonald's American Cup in March 1996. Likewise, when she earned a spot on the 1996 Olympics women's gymnastics team—by finishing second in the all-around competition at the United States Olympic trials—the press still favored Strug's teammates.

This might have happened at the Atlanta Olympics, too. Normally, Karolyi, like many coaches, place the gymnasts who they think will perform the best in the coveted anchor position for each event. This time, however, Karolyi changed his coaching strategy, and decided to determine the individual positions based only on the gymnasts' performance at the Olympic trials. Since Strug had placed so high in the trials, she earned the anchor position on both the floor exercise and vault events. Throughout the team competition, the United States performed well, and by the end of the second night, they were in first place, ahead of the second-place Russian team. The race was still close, however, as the American team entered its final event, the vault.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsGymnasticsKerri Strug Biography - A Lifelong Passion, Triumph And Heartbreak, Chronology, The Historic Vault, Awards And Accomplishments - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY STRUG: