Winning the Gold: Then and Now

Only twice since women’s gymnastics was introduced as an Olympic sport when the Modern Games began in 1896, have the USA women’s team brought home the team all-around gold medal: the first being when the Magnificent Seven won the hardware in Atlanta in 1996, and the second when 2012’s Fab Five dominated in London earlier today.

The Magnificent Seven — Atlanta 1996

The Fab Five — London 2012. Photo courtesy of thegossipwire.com

Being an 11-year-old little girl and having freshly retired from the sport of gymnastics before the 1996 Games, I held the Magnificent Seven and all of its events in unreasonably high regard. I was sure to record all of the footage (Olympic Trials and the Summer Games alike) on VHS, and even jumped around the house and shed a tear when Kerri Strug dramatically stuck her landing to secure gold for team USA. Even after all of these years, the 1996 American gold-medal-winning performance remains one of the more transcendent sports moments of my life.

In the sixteen years that followed, the sport of gymnastics has made, er, leaps and bounds in its evolution, especially over the past ten years:

  • In 1996, there were seven team members, including two alternates. The Fab Five only features, well, five, and each gymnast can compete on anywhere from one to all four apparatuses.
  • Sixteen years ago—and until the Code of Points was overhauled in 2006—scores on each of the events were scored out of a 10.0.
  • The original “horse” Kerri Strug so famously used in the 1996 Olympics was utilized until the “vaulting table” was implemented in competition in 2001.
  • In 1996, Dominique Moceanu was a mere 14 years old when she competed in Atlanta. An age requirement of 16 years old has since been instituted, thus creating various controversies in international competition and notoriously raising questions about the ages of members of the gold-medal-winning Chinese women’s gymnastics team in Beijing in 2008.
  • Additionally, for good measure, the current Olympic team was a combined 4+ years old when the Magnificent Seven won the all-around title (one of whom wasn’t even born until more than two months after the 1996 games).

Despite these major changes, a few things, however, remain the same: Bela and Marta Karolyi are still staples of the US Women’s team, gymnasts still wear scrunchies and hair clips, and fake congratulatory hugs continue to run rampant. Thankfully, the American gymnasts have strayed from glitter hairspray, while their counterparts (see: Russia) have decided to keep the sparkle alive.

To that, I’ll say keep the sparkles, Russia. We’ll take the gold — even if it did take a 16 year tape delay.*

*Sorry, had to.

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