(WCMH) – Simone Biles’s decision to step back from competition and focus on her mental health after her vault went awry at the Tokyo Olympics has brought a new focus on gymnast Kerri Strug’s gold medal performance at the 1996 games in Atlanta.
Strug famously landed a one-legged vault in the team competition moments after injuring her ankle during an awkward landing on her previous vault. While it was clear something had gone amiss when she landed the first vault, it wasn’t until she landed her second attempt that Strug’s face contorted in a painful expression and she fell to the ground, making it obvious to everyone that she was seriously injured.
Her decision to press on with the second vault put Team U.S.A. on top of the podium, winning the team competition Olympic gold medal for the first time in history.
In an iconic moment, her coach, Bela Karolyi, carried her out with her ankle bandaged to stand with her team and receive her gold medal.
A portion of Strug’s bio from her website sums up the aftermath of the event, reading, “It was a moment that landed Kerri on the front page of newspapers around the world and catapulted her into the spotlight. She was only eighteen years old.”
Before Biles’s stunning choice to reassess her participation in Tokyo, Strug reflected on that moment in Atlanta 25 years ago, in an interview with “USA Today,” recalling her experience in a positive light.
“It was definitely unexpected but exciting, you know, to be on the world stage and to have worked so long and hard to achieve my dream. It was finally realized and then to be recognized. I think all athletes, that’s kind of what they hope for, but you never know if it’ll become a reality.”
Strug also went on to credit mental toughness with helping athletes “push through” setbacks.
“I’ve come to understand that we all have a lot in common, those you know at the top of their game and those that are vying for something in their future. We all, you know, have to set goals, work hard to attain them, we’re gonna have setbacks and it’s those that push through and are mentally tough, those are the ones that are gonna prosper.”
Yet, in light of Biles’s struggles in Tokyo, Strug has made it clear that she supports her fellow athlete’s path to protecting her mind and body on Twitter.
Sending love to you @Simone_Biles 🐐❤️-Team UNITED States of America 🇺🇸— Kerri Strug (@kerristrug96) July 27, 2021
Strug’s tweet read, “Sending love to you @Simone_Biles 🐐❤️-Team UNITED States of America 🇺🇸.”
Biles expressed earlier this week that mental health and physical health must be considered together, explaining, “That’s why I took a step back, because I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured.”