Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Gutsy Vault Defines Spirit of Olympics STRUG'S TRIUMPH

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Gutsy Vault Defines Spirit of Olympics STRUG'S TRIUMPH

Article excerpt

Kerri Strug's famous vault may be the defining moment of the Centennial Olympics. With teeth clenched, Strug pounded down the ramp, cartwheeled onto the springboard and spun over the vault, capturing the essence of Olympic gold: triumph over adversity.

The 80-pound gymnast exhibited all the qualities of a consummate champion - self-sacrifice, unwavering courage, and gritty determination. Millions of Americans are hailing Strug as this summer's heroine, the young lady who may have given up a chance for personal achievement in individual competition to give all she had for her team.

Strug fell on her previous vault, apparently injuring her ankle. But she pulled herself off the mat and led the US women's gymnastics team to its first ever Olympic gold medal.

At the time, her vault was seen as pivotal. No one on the floor knew the exact scores and didn't know how close the American women - dubbed the magnificent seven - were to the Russians (who have dominated the field for the past two decades).

"In my 35-year coaching career, I have no similar experience," coach Bela Karolyi told reporters after the competition.

"I knew she will not say no. There was no hesitation. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said the Romanian-born coach, who also led Romanian Nadia Comaneci and American Mary Lou Retton to gold medals.

Until now, the serious and self-effacing Strug has not been the darling of the media or advertisers. She doesn't have an agent, a Kodak commercial (a la Dominique Dawes) or an autobiography (as Dominique Moceanu does).

Strug was a 14-year-old - the youngest on the team - when she competed at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where the US women's team won a bronze metal. But she finished fourth overall and didn't qualify for individual competition. In the 1995 World Championships she placed seventh.

Never satisfied with her level of performance, and sometimes criticized for displaying a lack of confidence in big competitions, Shrug switched coaches and training sites four times since the last Olympic games. She left Karolyi in Houston, went to Orlando, then on to Oklahoma City, moved back home to train with local coaches in Tucson, Ariz. …

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