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Kerri Strug

STRUG, KERRI (1977– ), U.S. gymnast, Olympic medal winner, member of the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame, and 1996 U.S. Olympic Spirit Award recipient. Strug was a gifted child in gymnastics, and at the age of 13 her parents allowed her to leave her home in Tucson, Arizona, to study in Houston, Texas, with the world-renowned coach Bela Karolyi. Over the next five years, Strug helped lead the U.S. women's gymnastics team to a series of high finishes, including a silver medal at the 1991 World Gymnastics Championships, a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics, a silver medal at the 1994 World Team Championships, and a bronze medal at the 1995 World Championships. Strug also showed great ability in individual all-around competitions, winning several American championships, and finishing in the top 15 in a number of international contests, including the 1992 Olympics. On March 2, 1996, she won her first major international competition, the American Cup. But Strug's defining moment came at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. In the finals of the vault competition, Strug fell on her first attempt, severely twisting her left ankle. Karolyi calculated that Strug needed a score of at least 9.6 and encouraged her with his now-famous, "You can do it, Kerri, you can do it." Having heard a popping noise, Strug knew that she was risking her chance to make a recovery in time for the all-around competition, but decided nevertheless to give her team a chance of ensuring the win. She limped back to the runway and then managed a near-perfect run, vault, and landing. Strug immediately lifted the injured leg and grimaced before collapsing to the canvas. She had torn two ligaments and now had a third-degree sprain. But Strug's score on the vault was 9.712, the U.S. had its gold, and Strug had won a place in Olympic lore. Reacting to people expressing surprise at her Jewishness, Strug wrote, "I think about the attributes that helped me reach that [medal] podium: perseverance when faced with pain, years of patience and hope in an uncertain future, and a belief and devotion to something greater than myself. It makes it hard for me to believe that I did not look Jewish up there on the podium. In my mind, those are attributes that have defined Jews throughout history." After retiring, Strug attended Stanford University. She is the author of Heart of Gold (1996) and Landing on My Feet: A Diary of Dreams (1997).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.