Strug, Kerri : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Strug, Kerri


Country Represented:
United States

Years Competed:
1992, 1996

Medals Received:
gold, bronze

Olympic Info:
A two-time Olympian for the United States women's gymnastics team in the 1990s, Strug first competed a the Barcelona Games in 1992. Kerri was the youngest athlete competing for the U.S. (in all sports), at the age of 14. She won the bronze medal in the team combined exercises, and finished in 14th place in the individual all-around.

It was at her second Olympiad, though, that Strug became a household name in the United States. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, the U.S. was fighting for the gold medal in the team combined exercises event. The team's chances lay with Kerri, who was anchoring the team in her best event, the vault. On her first vault, she landed short and fell backwards. She said: "The moment my feet hit the floor, I heard a pop. As I scrambled to stand, a fiery pain shot up my left leg." Kerri limped down the runway, now faced with a most difficult decision. She still had the individual competition in a couple days, but Strug believed she could help her team win the gold with another vault.

With only seconds to make the decision, she decided to try the vault, thus becoming part of Olympic history. No one who watched her, either in person or on television, will ever forget the courage and determination Kerri displayed when she ran down the runway, landed on both feet, lifted her injured foot and balanced on one foot to complete the vault to tremendous applause. She collapsed to her knees and the judges gave her a score of 9.71, thus giving the American team the gold medal. It was determined later that Kerri's score from her first vault (9.162) was enough to guarantee the Americans the gold, thus making the second vault unnecessary. U.S. coach Mary Lee Tracy said: "we had no idea what the score was..."

Kerri became America's new It Girl. Time magazine wrote: " was fitting that Strug's moment of Olympic glory was the storybook climax to one of the most brilliantly managed team efforts in U.S. Olympics history. She played through pain, convinced that she had to for the team, risking a worse injury and jeopardizing her own chance for more medals. Maybe she shouldn't have done it...but she did, and America got another electrifying moment to put into its collective sports memory bank."

Career Highlights:
Strug, was one of America's top female gymnasts in the 1990s. In 1982, at the age of five, she began her gymnastics career and by the late 1980s, she was one of the country's best prospects. In 1991, she finished first in the vault and third in the all-around at the U.S. Championships, thus qualifying for the National Team. That year at the World Championships, Kerri finished 15th in the all-around and captured a silver medal as the American team finished second overall. Following the 1992 Olympics, Strug remained a member of the U.S. National Team, winning a silver medal at the 1994 World Championships and a bronze in 1995 in the team competitions. In 1995, Kerri won the individual all-around at the U.S. Olympic Festival.

After her heroics at the 1996 Olympics, Kerri became a national celebrity, winning the Olympic Spirit Award (also awarded to Carl Lewis), and was featured as one of the 10 most fascinating people in 1996 on the Barbara Walters Special. She attended Stanford University and became the spokesperson for countless causes, including the Children's Miracle Network and the Special Olympics. In 1997, Strug accepted the position of Honorary Captain of the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games, and carried the Maccabiah torch into the Ramat Gan stadium for the opening ceremony. She said the experience was a chance: "to get back with my culture and heritage...the Jewish community has been wonderful and kind." Sports Illustrated ranked her 16th among Arizona's 50 Greatest Sports Figures of the 20th Century. In 2002, Strug was inducted into the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Nov. 19, 1977

Tucson, Arizona

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Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)