Kerri Strug's gritty, gold medal-clinching vault in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta will never be forgotten
A great Olympic moment is relative to the country you live in and the year you were born. The times we see our fellow countrymen succeed are the moments that are truly etched in our memories.
For me, I cheer and pay close attention to the U.S. Olympians and my memory bank goes back to the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. So with that in mind, here are my five greatest Summer Olympics moments.
5. A Half-Speed World Record – Beijing 2008
Americans or not, there are moments of individual athletic greatness across the globe that still mesmerize us. Usain Bolt’s 100-meter sprint at the 2008 games is the best example of the last 30 years. Having already set the world record going into Beijing, the Jamaican broke his own mark in the Olympic final. What made his historic run more remarkable was the fact that his shoelace was untied and he slowed down at the end to celebrate. The next year at the world championships in Berlin, Bolt tied his shoes extra tight and set a new world record, clearly staking his claim as the fastest man in history.
4. All in the Family – Seoul 1988
On Sept. 24, 1998 Jackie Joyner-Kersee won the gold medal in the heptathlon competition, breaking her own world record with a score of 7,291. Five days later, her sister-in-law, the late Florence Griffith Joyner (aka Flo-Jo) set a world record in the 200-meter sprint en route to winning three golds at the Seoul games. Both Flo-Jo and Joyner-Kersee’s records have never been broken (Flo-Jo also holds the record in the women’s 100 meters as well.).
3. Greatest. Olympian. Ever. – London 2012
Every time Michael Phelps wins a medal, he sets an Olympic record and one could argue for days about the single greatest moment of his career. Some would say that it came in Beijing, when he won his eighth gold medal of the 2008 games and broke Mark Spitz’s record that had stood since 1972. However, I am going with the 2012 games when he won the silver in the 200-meter butterfly and became the all-time record holder for most Olympic medals. His career tally currently stands at 22, including a record 18 golds, with the expectation that both numbers will increase in Rio.
2. The Dream Team – Barcelona 1992
In 1989, the International Basketball Federation ruled that professional players would be allowed to play in the Olympics for the first time ever at the 1992 Barcelona games. Since Team USA had finished in a disappointing third place at the 1988 Summer Olympics, it left nothing to chance in ‘92. The greatest assemblage of talent in basketball history included future Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Chris Mullin as well as Christian Laettner, who was considered the best college basketball player at the time. The “Dream Team” won all of its games by more than 30 points and easily won the gold medal. In the subsequent Olympics, the rest of the world got better and the American team got worse, cementing the Dream Team’s mythical status.
1. “Kerri! Kerri!” – Atlanta 1996
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team had never won a team gold medal in the history of the Olympics, but fielded a deep squad for the 1996 Summer Game on home soil. In the end, it came down to Kerri Strug’s two vault attempts. On the first she under-rotated, causing her to land awkwardly on her ankle, injuring it. As she limped afterwards, coach Bela Karolyi told her that the team needed her to do it one more time. Strug pulled herself together and nailed the landing on her next vault, despite the pain. The primarily U.S. crowd in the Georgia Dome chanted “Kerri! Kerri!” as the rest of the world watched in amazement. For the Medal Ceremony, Karolyi carried an injured Strug to the stage to receive her gold medal. No moment has ever been greater in my lifetime.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)