Women’s gymnastics has been an official sport in the Summer Olympics since 1928, when the first female Olympic gymnasts competed in Amsterdam. Since then, it has become one of the most popular sports in the international games. Here’s a look at some of the sport’s most famous gymnasts and memorable moments in Olympics history.
1. US Wins First Team Medal for Women’s Gymnastics
The 1948 London Olympics marked the return of the Olympic Games after World War II, and it also marked the first time the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won a medal in the team competition. The U.S. team received the bronze medal, following Hungary with silver and Czechoslovakia with gold.
The team captain, 27-year-old Clara Schroth Lomady, went on to set a record by winning six all-around titles at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. She remained the only woman to win that many all-around titles until Simone Biles matched her record in 2019 and broke it in 2021.
2. Olga Korbut Performs Her Famous Flip
One of the most popular athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics was Olga Korbut, a 17-year-old gymnast from the Soviet Union. Korbut won three gold medals and wowed audiences with her daring stunts. She was the first Olympic gymnast to do a backward somersault on the beam and also the first to perform a back flip to catch on the uneven bars. The latter move is now known as the “Korbut Flip.”
3. Nadia Comăneci Earns the First Perfect 10
In 1976, 14-year-old Nadia Comăneci became the first gymnast to receive a perfect 10 in an Olympic event. When the Romanian athlete earned the perfect score for her performance on the uneven bars at the Montreal Olympics, the scoreboard couldn’t even show it because the board was only designed to display three digits—not the four required to display a “10.00.”
Comăneci ended up scoring six more perfect 10s during the 1976 Montreal Olympics and taking home three gold medals.
4. Mary Lou Retton Vaults to Stardom
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In 1984, 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton became the first female gymnast outside of Eastern Europe to win the individual all-around gold medal. Retton was inspired to become a gymnast by Comăneci’s historic performance at the 1976 Olympics. She even trained with Comăneci’s coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi, who defected from Romania to the United States in 1981.
Retton earned two perfect 10 scores at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics—one for her floor routine and a second for her famous vault. Retton’s triumphant pose after her vault made the cover of Sports Illustrated, which named her Sportswoman of the Year. She also became the first U.S. gymnast to be on a Wheaties box and to be named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
5. Dominique Dawes Becomes First Black US Gymnast to Win Individual Olympic Medal
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics were a major year for U.S. women’s gymnastics. The 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics team, hailed as the “Magnificent Seven,” won the country’s first gold medal in the women’s gymnastics team competition. After team member Kerri Strug injured her ankle (more on that in a bit), 19-year-old Dominique Dawes ended up taking Strug’s place in the individual floor exercise. Dawes won the bronze in that competition, becoming the first Black American to win an individual Olympic medal in gymnastics.
6. Kerri Strug Sticks the Landing with a Bad Ankle
One of the stars of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was 18-year-old Kerri Strug. During her first vault, Strug landed awkwardly on her ankle and tore two ligaments. Gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi—the same man who had coached Comăneci and Retton—pressured her to do her second vault instead of pulling out. She stuck the landing, hopping on one leg for the crowd before collapsing from the pain. Afterward, she had to be carried off of the podium.
7. Gabby Douglas Wins All-Around Gold
At the 2012 London Olympics, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas became the first Black American to win a gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics category. She and her team—known as the “Fierce Five”—also won a gold medal in the all-around team competition, making them the second U.S. team to do so after the Magnificent Seven in 1996. With these wins, Douglas became the first American to win gold medals in both the team and individual all-around competitions.
8. Simone Biles Debuts—and Dazzles
By the time 19-year-old Simone Biles attended the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she was already an international star athlete with ten World Championship gold medals. During the Rio Olympics, Biles won one three gold medals for individual events and a fourth gold medal that the U.S. team, nicknamed the “Final Five,” won together. As the winner of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals and the only woman to hold seven all-around U.S. championship titles, she is currently the most decorated U.S. gymnast and is among the star athletes at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.