It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here! The Olympic Games begin today!!
Coverage of the Opening Ceremonies begin at 7:30pm EST (tape delay), so everyone better be setup in front of their televisions for the big event. Jen Maclellan and I will be in the Springfield Marriott with some serious takeout if anyone wants to join us. We’re fancy.
Personally, I thought the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing were the best ever, and will definitely be hard to top. But London’s been on a roll with their worldwide events since the Royal Wedding, so hopefully they’ve gotten enough pageantry under their belts to make this event perfect.
For the rest of the events throughout the Olympics, Shane Ryan, my favorite homeboy who I don’t actually know, made this in-depth Google doc for all of us to follow religiously for the next two weeks. Live by it.
And in other news, the Olympic flame made its way by Buckingham Palace last night, and down the Thames on the Royal Barge this morning on its way to Olympic Stadium. I gotta say, that flame has seen the world. I’m kind of jealous. It will be lit tonight and burn throughout the Games in the Olympic torch. Let the Games begin!
Number 1 on our list, Kerri Strug and the vault heard round the world:
My life has basically been built around all things sports-related, and in my 28 years, I’ve come to find that the greatest moments in sports history are not a single moment in time, but rather a perfect storm of events leading up to a particular triumph. It’s the history, the tension, the suspense and the outcome that all work together to create those moments we won’t ever forget, and that couldn’t be more true with respect to Kerri Strug at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
A few years before the Olympics, Strug suffered a horrible crash on the uneven bars which resulted in a painful back injury which needed a lot of rehab. It was during this time that she proved herself as a tough gymnast with a spirit full of perseverance. She came back from the injury in a pretty short amount of time, and was healthy enough to make the US Gymnastics team for the ’96 Games.
The US women’s gymnastics team, now remembered as the Magnificent Seven, was stacked in 1996, led by the already highly-decorated veteran Shannon Miller and the tiny newcomer Dominique Moceanu. Strug, though extremely talented and respected, maybe didn’t get as much acknowledgement as she deserved because of the high levels all of her teammates were competing at.
The US women were in gold-medal contention going into the team final, trailing only Russia after the compulsories. They started on the uneven bars, and basically killed it. If you have time, watch the entire team final on YouTube, starting with this video. I did this one day, and it takes awhile, but it’s captivating. And you will definitely be crying and yelling “USA! USA!” by the last video.
The team moved onto the beam for their second event, after having a somewhat crazy time on the beam during the compulsory round. Everyone is solid in their tricks and dismounts, waving away any unsteadiness they may have had earlier in the Games. It was here, I think, that the announcers start to realize that something special was going on. The girls take all of this momentum with them onto the floor exercise.
It’s here things get a little controversial. The American crowd was going crazy for the US athletes for the entire Olympics, but I don’t think it was as apparent, or as loud, as it was in the Georgia Dome during the women’s gymnastics team final. The US team’s floor exercise routines all had the extreme screaming of the Superbowl behind them. They performed beautifully on the vault, and that energy went with them over to their last apparatus, the vault. With the lead in hand, the Americans only needed to perform consistently in this last event to take home the gold medal.
But the vault seemed to be trickier than they had expected. The first four Americans, Phelps, Chow, Miller, and Dawes perform well, but not as well as they had been in the other three apparatuses. Moceanu needed a 9.743 to lock down the team gold, which was totally do-able. Well, until Moceanu sat down on both of her vaults, leaving the door wide open for the next and final US team member: Kerri Strug.
It looked to be the biggest collapse in sports’ history when Strug too sat down on her first vault. The Americans only had one more chance to score that 9.743 and win the gold. If anyone was capable of it in this tough situation, it was Strug, but worry set in as she got up from the vault padding and began limping back to the starting point. Almost in tears, Strug took a look over to coach Bela Karolyi, who urged her on. She then took a few hops on the foot, stretched her back, and, as you can see in her eyes, decided it’s going to be all or nothing. The Georgia Dome was more silent than it had been for the entire Olympics.
On a foot that, unbeknownst to her or anyone, was suffering from a sprain and tendon damage, Strug raced down the floor, up onto the horse, and threw herself into her vault, landing on just one foot. She raised her arms over her head, signaling that her vault was complete, and immediately collapsed to the floor, unable to walk, unable to throw one more ounce of energy into this Olympics. She was carried off the floor to the shouts and screams of a 100,000 American fans who wouldn’t sit down. Her score was a 9.712, and fortunately, the Russians weren’t able to pull off enough scores to overcome the Americans. An injured Kerri Strug had won the Gold Medal for America, and that my friends, is the Greatest Moment in Olympic History.
So enjoy tonight, and enjoy the next two weeks. I hope if you’ve taken anything away from this countdown it’s that history isn’t written by extraordinary people, but regular people who choose to rise to the occasion.
Go Team USA!