It seems impossible to believe that this week is the 25th anniversary of Kerri Strug vaulting the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to gold in Atlanta.
Strug, who famously completed the vault on an injured ankle, etched her name into the annals of American sports history on that summer night. It was an unforgettable moment that gets relived every time the summer Olympics are on the schedule.
We spoke with Strug recently about her iconic achievement in 1996, what she’s up to now, her family and much more. She is actually the second member of the “Magnificent Seven” we talked to this month, having recently published an interview with Strug’s gold-medal teammate, Dominique Moceanu.
Let’s get started with our conversation with Kerri Strug.
The Spun: You recently had the opportunity to accept the Capital One Cup, given annually to the best men’s and women’s athletics programs in college sports, on behalf of your alma mater, Stanford. How meaningful was that for you?
Kerri Strug: It was really exciting. Both the men’s and women’s teams won this year. I’m a proud graduate of Stanford and it’s always nice when we have an opportunity to celebrate college athletics and highlight what these young athletes have done. With the pandemic, this was an interesting year. Particularly for the Stanford women’s basketball team, which was on the road for so long. For them to win the national championship and this award, it’s that much more meaningful.
I think we all learned through this year that sports don’t only entertain us. They also really provide a lot to our lifestyles, in terms of we love watching those amazing moments on our television screen and it can enable us to all dig a little deeper when we see the dedication and perseverance that these young athletes put forth.
The Spun: Does the Capital One Cup have any added meaning considering Stanford had decided to eliminate several scholarship sports before ultimately changing their mind and keeping them?
KS: You know, I think a lot of us were a little surprised when Stanford originally said they might cut some programs. But they heard the alumni and the athletes loud and clear and they made the right decision to keep the various sports.
I think Stanford has always had a strong showing and has done well with the Capital One Cup through the years and has always had a high standard of excellence academically and athletically. …I’m very glad that they kept those programs and it makes it that much sweeter that both the men’s and women’s programs won the Capital One Cup this year to say ‘Look, you made the right decision.’
The Spun: In your first answer, you talked about big moments in sports. Has it hit you that it will be 25 years since your vault and your team winning gold in Atlanta? What does it mean to see another huge anniversary pop up, especially in an Olympic year?
KS: You know, in some ways, it seems just like yesterday because I do relive the moment every quadrennium. However, in other ways, it’s been two-and-a-half decades. Life moves on. I’m a mom with two young kids, I work for the Department of Justice. For me, it’s a moment I will always be grateful for and be proud of. But clearly, over the last 25 years, there’s been so many remarkable athletic moments that I think have inspired the world. And I think that’s what sports does. We can’t all be the athlete winning championships or competing in the Olympics, but we can all have a part of it in some way, whether it’s participating or turning on the TV and rooting and being inspired.
The Spun: Looking at US gymnastics right now, obviously the biggest name is Simone Biles. When you watch her perform, are you as astounded as everyone else is? And what are your thoughts on the scoring situation, where she thinks some of her moves should be scored higher but some of the gymnastics governing bodies are afraid of other gymnasts trying them out so they’re intentionally keeping scores lower for safety reasons?
KS: Well, first off, I am astounded. She is magnificent. Her energy level, the height that she gets on the vaults and the floor exercise tumbling passes is just incredible. Her skill level–[that Yurchenko double pike] vault–she said ‘I’m doing this because I can. Not because I need to.’ And that really resonated with me, because that’s what athletes do. They work harder each and every day to better themselves and it’s when nobody’s watching. When you do something because you know you can and you want to, that’s a true champion in my mind. She’s amazing. I don’t know what else to say.
In terms of the difficulty level, I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m 25 years removed. I don’t know all the technicalities of what the International Gymnastics Federation goes through. For me, I now as a mom view sports in a different manner. It’s all about these character traits of what I want my kids to aspire to and gather for their own mind. I like watching the Olympics and college athletics for all that they can teach my kids and what they can use in their own lives.
The Spun: How many children do you have? Are they participating in sports?
KS: I have two kids. I have a nine-year-old boy who loves tennis, baseball, ice hockey, soccer. He’s into really anything with a ball. Obviously, he’s going to be tiny, although he had aspirations of becoming the next Deandre Ayton because we live here in Tucson, Arizona. I don’t think that’s going to happen with my genes, so we might pivot more toward tennis or soccer.
My daughter, like many young girls, is involved in dance and gymnastics. She also dabbles in soccer. They’re at the age where I think it’s important to kind of find what their passion is, because you’re never going to become the best of the best if you don’t love what you’re doing. The commitment is a big one, if you really want to make it to that college level. You’ve got to be fully dedicated and I think you must have that desire to succeed.
The Spun: What’s it like interacting with and observing gymnastics as a mom with your daughter?
KS: My daughter likes it a lot, but I’m more of the ‘Let’s just see how it goes’ type. I think, for me, if you have an injury here or there you have to push through, but with my daughter I’m a little bit different. Always want to err on the side of caution, take it easy. I think as they get older, things will change, because having the experiences that I’ve had, I really do believe it’s not enough to have the talent. You’ve got to put forth the time, energy and sacrifice if you really want to succeed. I’m going to have to get a little bit more stern as they get older if they really want to pursue athletic excellence.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.