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1996: Kerri Strug Makes Olympic History

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Everyone in the production truck knew Kerri Strug had done it. In the final vault of the women’s gymnastics team finals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the 18-year-old gymnast had overcome the U.S. deficit on the scoreboard to narrowly edge out the Russian team by less than a point.

It was a good thing, too, because Strug’s run had ended badly. After dismounting the vault apparatus, she had landed awkwardly, a loud crack coming from her left ankle. The bone had been moved forward, severing her medial and lateral ligaments.

But what was obvious to the television crew and to many of the spectators that July 23 was not at all apparent to the U.S. team or their coaches. They had just 30 seconds to decide whether or not the score discrepancy added up to a narrow margin of victory or a second-place finish. It was better to have Strug go a second time to guarantee the gold medal.

The four-foot, nine-inch gymnast, who hadn’t even experienced puberty yet due to a lack of body fat, nodded her head. She would run another 75 feet and do it again.

Strug’s determination not to trail the Russians began in 1992, when the then-14-year old gymnast offered what she considered a weak and ineffectual performance in the Barcelona Games, finishing fourth among the American team. Still a young teenager, she had moved away from her parents in Tucson, Arizona to be closer to Béla Károlyi, a renowned gymnastics coach in Houston, Texas.

After qualifying for the 1996 games, Strug and the rest of the women’s squad—dubbed the “Magnificent Seven” and led by Károlyi's wife, Martha—stayed at an empty fraternity house at Emory University outside of the Olympic Village to avoid distractions. While Strug was determined not to repeat her subpar performance from four years earlier, the team as a whole was facing an even bigger obstacle: No women’s U.S. gymnastics team had ever taken Olympic gold. The event had been dominated by the Russians since 1948.

Things were looking up early on; then Strug’s teammate, Dominique Moceanu, fell twice, evaporating the American lead. The Russians were looking at another victory when Strug’s turn at the vault came up.

Before being revamped in 2000, the apparatus resembled a pommel horse without the handles and provided a platform (with an adjacent springboard) from which a gymnast could propel themselves into a maneuver. It was also infamous for causing injuries: Sang Lan, a Chinese competitor, suffered a spinal injury during the 1988 Goodwill Games that resulted in paralysis; an inadvertently-shortened vault led to a series of accidents at the 2000 Games.

Strug leapt into the air, landing on her back and injuring her ankle.

Her score: 9.162. As she limped away, Károlyi screamed at her from behind a barricade: “We need it, we need it! Shake it out!”

Strug later said the sting of the 1992 Games was in her head when she decided to attempt a second jump. Running the 75 feet leading to the vault, she jumped into a back handspring that was executed without error. When she landed, another crack could be heard from her ankle. She held her pose just long enough to get the judges' recognition before she collapsed.

The jump improved her score to 9.712. The U.S. team had made history by beating the second-place Russians by a margin of just over eight-tenths of a point.

Károlyi carried Strug to the podium, where her teammates helped her stand long enough to receive the gold medal. More than 32,000 fans in the Georgia Dome saw it, but NBC’s broadcast was delayed. It would be nearly six hours—after midnight eastern time—before the rest of the country witnessed Strug’s jump into history.

Doctors weren’t sure how much of the damage to Strug's foot was the result of the first jump and how much was exacerbated by the second. The ankle was slow to heal, prompting her to take it easy during performances following the Games. (Skipping them entirely would have been a poor financial choice; she received up to $24,000 for such appearances.)

The media couldn’t get enough of Strug’s impressive constitution, contrasting her diminutive size and age with the courage it took to jump a second time. Károlyi and others were quick to point out that it was a belated observation—all gymnasts were tough.

Strug’s original plan was to attend UCLA on a scholarship, where she could continue competing. The jump, however, made her irresistible as a post-Olympic commodity, and the paid appearances made her ineligible for amateur competition. She hired a talent agent to navigate business opportunities and guest spots on shows like Beverly Hills, 90210, and Touched by an Angel before graduating from Stanford University in 2001 with a bachelor's degree, then earning a master's in sociology shortly thereafter.

Most people, however, probably recognize Strug from her endorsement deals. In addition to pitching for leotards and breakfast cereal, the 3M company saw a perfect marriage of athlete and consumer product: Strug appeared in commercials for Ace bandages.

All images courtesy of Getty.

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KXIV
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Redesigned Adidas Sneakers Channel Beijing’s Olympic Stadium
KXIV
KXIV

Beijing National Stadium has stood empty since the 2008 Olympics, but that hasn’t stopped the building from becoming an architectural icon. Designer KXIV (Nathan Kiatkulpiboone) found inspiration in the tangled "Bird’s Nest" structure when re-imagining Adidas’s Ultraboost running shoe. As designboom reports, he used 3D-printing technology to achieve the lattice design.

KXIV comes from a background in architecture. When he isn’t dreaming up shopping centers or city towers, he’s applying the principles he uses as an architect to sneaker design. In 2014, he unveiled a pair of Nike Jordan X shoes that borrowed elements from Thailand’s White Temple and Black House. He's also created a line of dress shoes inspired by modern architecture for the footwear brand SewRaw.

His latest project evokes the Bird’s Nest woven exterior. The Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron designed the stadium for the 2008 Olympics, and today it’s remembered as one of the most distinctive structures ever built for the games.

To recreate the look on an Adidas sneaker, KXIV used polyurethane webbing fused to a lycra base. The upper layer of bands were 3D-printed in a way that holds the shoes together. The sneakers are just a prototype, so like the stadium they’re based on, the striking form will remain unused for the foreseeable future.

Shoes inspired by Beijing National Stadium.
KXIV
KXIV

Shoes inspired by Beijing National Stadium.
KXIV

[h/t designboom]

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Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund
5 Fast Facts About Nancy Kerrigan
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund

Google Nancy Kerrigan’s name and the first batch of results will mainly be articles about the brutal knee injury she sustained, courtesy of an assailant hired by fellow skater Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, right before the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Yet Kerrigan is much more than a victim of that attack, even though Hollywood keeps making documentaries and feature films about the incident. Despite the injury, Kerrigan won a silver medal at Lillehammer (after previously winning a bronze at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France).

Currently, Kerrigan and dance partner Artem Chigvintsev are competing on the new season of Dancing with the Stars; as of this writing, the couple is still in it. Here are five things to know about the wannabe Mirror Ball trophy winner.

1. HER MOTHER IS LEGALLY BLIND.

In 1972, Nancy’s mom, Brenda, lost complete sight in her left eye—and most of the sight in her right eye—and became legally blind because of a rare virus. When Nancy’s parents attended the Albertville Olympics, they had to sit underneath the stands and watch the performance on a TV. “It’s made it possible for me to see 100 percent more than I would in the stands, but not the way you do,” Brenda told The New York Times in 1992. “I never can see her face.” Kerrigan set up a charity, The Nancy Kerrigan Foundation, to raise money for the vision impaired.

2. SHE MADE HISTORY AT THE 1991 WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS.

Bob Martin/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

During the 1991 World Figure Skating Championships held in Munich 10 months before the 1992 Olympic Games, Kristi Yamaguchi, Harding, and Kerrigan all won medals; it was the first time the same country had swept the women’s medal stand. (American men did this in 1956.) Yamaguchi won gold at Albertville, Kerrigan won bronze, and Harding finished fourth.

Like Kerrigan, Yamaguchi also competed on DWTS; she danced with Mark Ballas during season six—and won. Wishing her former competitor Kerrigan luck, Yamaguchi tweeted “break a leg” to Kerrigan (which, in hindsight, might not have been the best way of rooting Kerrigan on).

3. SHE WROTE A BOOK ON FIGURE SKATING.

In 2002, Kerrigan published a book on how to figure skate. In Artistry on Ice: Figure Skating Skills & Style, she writes about advanced techniques, competition, choreography, and costumes (she competed in designer costumes created by Vera Wang).

4. SHE’S CURRENTLY PRODUCING A DOCUMENTARY.

Kerrigan recently told People about how she developed an eating disorder after the traumatic events at the 1994 Olympics. All the media scrutiny caused her to feel like “everything else was really out of control at the time,” she said. “I would avoid food because it was something I could do. I felt like I could control that and nothing else.” She wasn’t anorexic, but she did stop eating for a period.

With encouragement from her manager and family, she slowly started eating more. Kerrigan is producing a documentary on eating disorders called Why Don’t You Lose 5 More Pounds, due out next year. The doc will feature interviews with other women who have suffered through extreme eating issues.

5. A BIG-SCREEN VERSION OF THE TONYA HARDING INCIDENT IS COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU.

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

I, Tonya, a big-screen recounting of Harding’s rise to fame (and fall from grace) is currently in production. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film will focus mainly on Harding, who will be played by Margot Robbie. Caitlin Carver, who appeared in the film adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns, will play Kerrigan.

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