The 1996 U.S. women’s team, nicknamed the “Mag 7″ or “magnificent seven,” was made up of seven immensely talented teenaged girls: Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug. The team entered the Summer Olympics with the expectations of an entire country heaped on their young shoulders. They were considered America’s best shot ever at an Olympic team gold, something no American women’s gymnastics team had ever won. The American women’s best finish to that point had been a silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which were boycotted by the favored Soviet Union, winner of eight consecutive team golds between 1952 and 1980.
To win the gold in 1996, the U.S. women faced a battle with perennial contender Russia and Romania, the two-time defending world champions. Still, U.S. fans believed the odds were good: The team had deep reserves of talent and each of its members was capable of winning events. When the team competition began, veteran U.S. star Shannon Miller did not disappoint, delivering an impressive performance to place second overall to the Ukranian world champion Lilia Podkopayeva.
The final event of the team competition for the U.S. was the vault. Fourteen-year-old Dominique Moceanu, the first American to compete, had a chance to clinch the gold for her team with a solid performance, but was unable to stick the landing on her first attempt. As the pro-American crowd gathered in Atlanta held their breath, Moceanu took off for her second vault, and, again, slipped and fell on the landing. This left it up to Strug, America’s second and final vaulter, to seal the win.
On her first attempt, Strug also fell on the landing, and heard an alarming pop in her ankle. The team and coach Bela Karolyi were unaware that the team had won whether Strug vaulted again or not, so Strug bravely readied herself to vault on her badly sprained ankle. After executing a perfect one-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko, Strug landed solidly on two feet. She then spun and hopped on one foot towards the judges’ table before collapsing in pain. When her 9.712 was announced, she celebrated in the arms of her coach, who would later have to carry the 4-foot-9-inch “Spark Plug” Strug to the medal stand.