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