Host City: Atlanta, United States
Venue(s): Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Date Started: July 21, 1996
Date Finished: July 23, 1996
Format: Seven-person teams, six to compete on each apparatus, with best five of six scores counting for each apparatus.
Since 1956, the event had consisted of six-person teams, with the five best all-around scores counting towards the team scores. It was changed slightly in 1992 when the five best scores on each apparatus routine, compulsory and optional, were used for the team scores. In 1996, teams were allowed seven gymnasts, choosing six to compete on each apparatus, with the five best scores counting towards the team score. The Soviet Union had dominated this event since 1952, winning every year except 1984 when they boycotted, including 1992 as the Unified Team. Russia was now the remnant of that gymnastics power but this was expected to be a four-way battle between Russia, Romania, China, and the United States.
Russia led after the compulsories but two nights later the Americans took a lead of 0.897 points after three rotations of the optionals. Romania was also very close but after the third rotation out of the gold medal chase, while China was mired back in fourth. On the fourth rotation, the vault for the United States, [Dominique Moceanu], missed two consecutive vaults, scoring 9.2. The final American was [Kerri Strug], who was a vault specialist, but she landed poorly on her first attempt, scoring only 9.162, and what was worse, felt something tear in her left ankle. Strug did not think she could take her second attempt, but she was urged on by her teammates and coach, Bela Karolyi, who told her, “We need a 9.6.”
Strug took the final vault, landed, hopped slightly on her one good leg, but otherwise was clean, and scored a 9.712, clinching the gold medal for the US. The diminutive gymnast was seen a few minutes later being carried around the arena by Karolyi, while she was wearing a protective boot. Strug became a national heroine in the US, as US television played up the dramatics. Unfortunately, the story was better than the reality. Without Strug taking the final vault, the US would still have won the competition by 0.309 points.