The Olympic Games in Rio may be getting all the attention right now, but the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta had a lot of memorable events too. One of them was Muhammad Ali serving as the final torchbearer, the one to light the Olympic Cauldron. Another was the moment Bela Karolyi carried Kerri Strug to the podium so she could receive a gold medal for the U.S.A. women's gymnastics team.
According to a July 1996 article from The New York Daily News, Strug had two chances to perform a successful vault. When she made her first landing, Strug heard something in her foot snap. Karolyi was her personal coach, and when Strug limped to the end of the vault runway at the end of the first vault, Karolyi repeatedly yelled, "You can do it!" She did do it. She completed an extremely difficult vault on the second try — and she tore two ligaments in her ankle when she stuck the landing. Strug then had to crawl off the mat, but not before she raised her arms knowing that she had successfully completed the vault. The crowd began to cheer wildly, and justifiably so. Strug scored 9.712 on the vault, despite being badly hurt.
In a moment that has since gone down in history, Karolyi picked Strug up and carried her to the podium. In a 2012 interview for Team USA, Strug recounted the moment, remembering that she wasn't wearing pants and that she and her teammates weren't standing in the right order. But, more importantly, Strug had led them to the gold.
Strug made history that day, because it was the first time the U.S. women's gymnastics team had become Olympic champions. It was the first time that Team USA managed to beat out both the Russians and the Romanians to get the gold. It makes sense that she refused to go the hospital right after performing; after everything she went through to win the gold for her team, she wasn't about to miss the medal ceremony. Her foot was in a splint and wriggling in pain, but she still stood up on that podium. It was only afterward, according to The Daily News, that Strug went to Crawford Long Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a third-degree lateral ankle sprain.
Upon Strug's victory that day, Mary Lou Retton — a retired gymnast who won the gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics — said all that needed to be said: "The U.S. is no longer a follower in the world of gymnastics. After so many generations, the U.S. is a leader. This is history." And after the wild success of the women's U.S. gymnastics team in Rio this year, that statement has proven true.