1996: Kerri Strug Makes Olympic History

Getty
Getty

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.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Surprising Facts About Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris.
Chuck Norris.
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

For decades, martial artist and actor Carlos Ray Norris Jr. has been kicking his way into the hearts of action film fans. In addition to his competitive karate career, Norris has starred in a string of successful movies as well as the long-running CBS drama Walker, Texas Ranger. With Norris having reached the milestone age of 80 years old back in March 2020, we’re taking a look at some of the more interesting facts about his life and career.

1. Chuck Norris is a military veteran.

Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
Chuck Norris stars in Lone Wolf McQuade (1983).
MGM Home Entertainment

Born on March 10, 1940 in Ryan, Oklahoma, Norris was the oldest of three boys and a self-described “shy” child. After a move to California, Norris attended North Torrance High School. After graduating, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he became a member of the military police in the hopes of pursuing a career in law enforcement. It was in the service, while being stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, that Norris first discovered the martial arts. When he once found himself unable to control a rowdy drunk in a bar while on patrol duty, Norris realized he needed combat skills. He studied Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do before returning to California. When he was discharged from the Air Force in 1962, Norris began teaching the skills he had acquired to students.

2. Steve McQueen got Chuck Norris into acting.

Norris became a world champion in karate contests, which lent credence to his abilities as a martial arts instructor. He taught several celebrities the finer points of self-defense, including the Osmonds, Priscilla Presley, and Steve McQueen. Norris even trained Price Is Right host Bob Barker. But not all his schools were doing well, and after retiring from competition in 1974, Norris was looking for other opportunities. McQueen suggested that Norris try his hand at acting. McQueen was right—eventually. It took several years and nine films, but Norris had a breakthrough with 1982’s Lone Wolf McQuade.

3. Chuck Norris needed to obey a producer’s request in order to face off against Bruce Lee.

While Norris didn’t become a household name until the 1980s, his turn as a villain in 1972’s Return of the Dragon (also known as Way of the Dragon) opposite Bruce Lee wound up being a seminal meeting of two onscreen martial arts legends. When Lee was looking for an adversary for the climactic fight, he called Norris, whom he knew and was friends with. But the film’s producer insisted that Norris gain 20 pounds so that he would appear to be much larger than Lee on camera. “That’s why I don’t do jump kicks [in the movie],” Norris told Empire in 2007. “I couldn’t get off the ground!”

4. Chuck Norris founded his own martial arts system.

Taking the knowledge he had acquired over many years of training in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do, Norris developed his own unique martial arts system and philosophy that he eventually dubbed Chun Kuk Do. In addition to combat techniques, the system encourages students to develop themselves to their maximum potential and look for the good in other people. It was renamed the Chuck Norris System in 2015.

5. Chuck Norris once marketed Chuck Norris Action Jeans.

Thanks to his fame in the martial arts world, Norris was sought after to endorse athletic products. In 1982, martial arts equipment company Century recruited Norris to be a spokesperson for their Karate Jeans, which featured flexible fabric sewn into the crotch that would presumably allow the wearer to deliver a bone-crunching kick while looking fashionable. Eventually renamed Action Jeans, Norris promoted them for years.

6. Chuck Norris had his own cartoon series.

At the height of his popularity in the 1980s, Norris teamed with animation company Ruby-Spears for an animated series, Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. The show featured Norris and a team of martial artists fighting villains like Superninja and The Claw. Although 65 shows were planned, just a few aired. “We only did six of them, and then a woman at CBS said, ‘Those are too violent,’” Norris told MTV News in 2009.

7. Chuck Norris is a real Texas Ranger.

For eight seasons, Norris pummeled bad guys as the star of the 1990s CBS television series Walker, Texas Ranger, which became the first primetime show shot on location in Texas at Norris’s insistence. In 2010, Norris was named an honorary member of the Texas Rangers by state governor Rick Perry in acknowledgment of Norris’s work in raising awareness for the elite unit and for his work helping underprivileged youths via martial arts programs. Norris’s brother, Aaron Norris, who was an executive producer on the show, also received the designation.

8. Chuck Norris’s role in Dodgeball was a surprise to Chuck Norris.

Norris is generally good-humored about his persona and is often willing to poke fun at himself. But when he was asked to do a cameo in the 2004 comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, he passed because he didn’t feel like driving three hours to the movie’s set in Long Beach, California. When star Ben Stiller called to ask personally, Norris agreed, but didn’t read the script. He simply shot his scene where he offers a thumbs-up to the dodgeball competitors.

When Norris saw the movie in theaters, he was surprised at the context. “But in the end, when Ben’s a big fatty and watching TV, the last line of the whole movie is, ‘F***in’ Chuck Norris!,'” Norris told Empire in 2007. “My mouth fell open to here… I said, ‘Holy mackerel!’ That was a shock, Ben didn’t tell me about that!”