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Despite Dislocated Ankle, Strug Wins Gold for Women Gymnastics

By Jennifer Frey
The Washington Post
ATLANTA

The remarkable courage of 18-year-old Kerri Strug and the marvelous hodgepodge of personality and experience of the U.S. women's gymnastics team Tuesday night proved the perfect combination to make Olympic history. Strug, her ankle dislocated, nailed a perfect vault to propel the Americans to the gold medal in women's team competition and out of the long shadow cast by the former Soviet Union and its satellites.

Strug was at the center of that history, the final U.S. competitor on the final of the four apparatus, performing under what appeared to be the most dramatic of circumstances. After dislocating her left ankle on the first of her two vaults, a vault in which she fell, Strug summoned the strength to take her final turn anyway, and nailed her landing, despite using only her good leg to remain upright.

In doing so, she surprised nearly everyone, including her effusive coach, Bela Karolyi.

"I never thought Kerry would be able to do it," he said. "She was just a little girl. She was never the toughest, roughest girl. She would be the last girl I would think would go through the pain and sorrow."

Karolyi recounted his conversation with his charge before the vault: "She said, I can't feel my leg.' I said, Shake it, move it.' I said, We need another vault. Can you do it?' She said, Yes, I will, I will, I will.' "

For those without calculators - and the crowd, as well as the members of the American team were among them - that vault seemed necessary to the U.S. success. The previous American competitor, 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu, had fallen on both of her vaults, recording a low score of 9.2. Believing they would need to drop Moceanu's score - the lowest of the six competitors' scores is dropped on each apparatus - the Americans were desperate for Strug to do well.

In reality, the U.S. team did not need Strug's vault to claim the gold medal - the margin of victory over second-place Russia, 389.225 to 388.404, ended up being so large that Moceanu's score would have been enough. But with two Russians still to perform on the floor exercise and the scoring system so convoluted, the moment carried tremendous drama.