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On This Date in Sports July 23, 1996: Mag Seven

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The United States Women's Gymnastics Team wins an Olympic Gold Medal for the first time at the Summer Games in Atlanta. The Gold Medal came down to the last event, with an injured Keri Strug needing to land her jump in the vault. Strug had badly sprained her ankle and was in a great deal of pain as she landed on one foot and collapsed into the arms of coach Bela Karolyi. The team nicked the "Mag Seven" would be launched into instant stardom, as Keri Strug took the podium with her led bandaged as she was carried by Karolyi. 

After coaching Nadia Comaneci to a golden performance in 1976, Bela Karolyi and his Marta became disillusioned with the Romanian Government. At a competition in 1981, the couple defected from the Communist Bloc country and came to the United States, settling in Texas. They established a Gymnastics training program in Houston using the fame as Nadia's coach. In 1984, Bela Karolyi helped Mary Lou Retton become the first American to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Gymnastics. He and his wife would soon be charged with building the Women's Gymnastics program, which had previously had struggled to be among the world's powers. 

The best performance of the U.S. Women in Gymnastics came with a Silver Medal in 1984 when the Soviet Powerhouse and most Communist Bloc nations had boycotted in responses to the American-led boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow. It was the first medal ever won in the Olympics for the American Women's Gymnastics Team. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in Seoul in 1988, Team USA made great strides in taking a Bronze Medal in 1992 in Barcelona. 

By the time the Olympics arrived in Atlanta, the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team had become a Gold Medal contender. The seven members nicknamed Mag Seven, short for Magnificent Seven, consisting of Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps, and Kerri Strug had become one of the best in the world, winning a Silver at the 1994 World Championships and a Bronze in 1995. 

The format for scoring at the 1996 Olympics changed; for the first time, the seven-member teams had six members compete in the four disciplines, with the top-five scores counting toward the overall medal performance. Team USA was uneven in the compulsory round but had a strong finish as they were second to Russia as Romania ranked third. In the final round, Team USA started strong on the Uneven Parrell Bars, putting themselves in a position to take over the top of the scoreboard with a flawless performance in the balance beam. Team USA overcame some minor bumps in the floor exercise to head to the Vault with the Gold Medal in reach. 

With Russia scoring potentially high marks on the floor, Team USA needed a strong vault from the five qualifiers. Each gymnast got two attempts, with the top score counting to the medal standings. While Dominique Moceanu ultimately would clinch gold, scoring a 9.43, the Americans looked to Keri Strug to get high marks in her top event. Russia was still on the Floor Exercise and was not getting the scores they had expected. On her first jump, Kerri Strug landed awkwardly and injured her left ankle. Not knowing that Russia had failed to get the scores needed to win the Gold, Strug thinking the medal was on the line, made her second vault with a badly sprained ankle as her team cried out, "You Can Do It, Keri," in support. Strug landed on one foot, scoring a 9.712 to an adoring crowd, as Team USA celebrated a Gold Medal.

The image of Keri Strug landing on one leg and later being carried to the medal podium became one of the most enduring of the 1996 games in Atlanta as it launched a new age for American Dominance in Gymnastics.