Magnificent Seven

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How the Magnificent Seven 1996 Olympic gymnastics team was chosen

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Olympic Trials, often deemed tougher competition than the Olympics themselves, are typically filled with surprises and nail-biting. The drama for the 1996 U.S. women’s gymnastics team race occurred, for the most part, before trials began.

It came down to two days at Boston’s Fleet Center, three weeks before the Opening Ceremony. There, the top seven finishers in all-around competition were in line to make up the Olympic team.

It didn’t turn out to be that simple.

For one, the previous two national champions — Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu — came out of the U.S. Championships three weeks earlier with injuries (wrist tendinitis, tibia fracture). They chose to petition for spots on the Olympic team rather than attempt to compete while hurt at trials.

The process: their scores from nationals would be used. It was highly unlikely that five other gymnasts would better Miller and Moceanu, who placed first and third, respectively, at nationals. The duo watched trials inside the Fleet Center. USA Gymnastics reportedly confirmed they mathematically clinched spots after the first day of competition.

Back then, the two-day competition included compulsories, which counted for 60 percent of a final score, and optionals, which counted 40 percent.

Going into optionals, the standings looked like this:

Miller — 47.220 (from nationals)
Moceanu — 47.1 (from nationals)
Jaycie Phelps — 46.887
Dominique Dawes — 46.768
Kerri Strug — 46.588
Amy Chow — 46.377
Amanda Borden — 45.913
Beth Arnold — 45.568
Theresa Kulikowski — 45.433

The 14-woman field featured nine with world championships experience, plus future Olympians in Kristen Maloney (2000) and Mohini Bhardwaj (2004). The way compulsories shook out was hardly a surprise. Phelps was second at nationals, while Dawes, Strug and Borden also placed top six three weeks earlier.

Chow was a unique case. She was sixth in compulsories at nationals, then withdrew before optionals with back spasms.

At trials, on her last routine, she awkwardly fell off the balance beam, smacking her face on the apparatus. Chow had either 10 seconds or 30 seconds to remount the beam, depending on which report you believe. She did it within 10 seconds and finished the routine to remain, comfortably, in the top five.

Two of the top challengers — Kristy Powell and Theresa Kulikowski — fell in compulsories. They shared a coach — Tom Forster, who now oversees the U.S. women’s national team.

The last Olympic spot went to Amanda Borden, who missed the 1992 Olympic team. Borden would be named captain of the Magnificent Seven. The final Olympic Trials standings:

Shannon Miller — 78.380 (from nationals)
Dominique Moceanu — 78.220 (from nationals)
Dominique Dawes — 78.157
Kerri Strug — 78.108
Jaycie Phelps — 77.736
Amy Chow — 77.267
Amanda Borden — 77.162

Theresa Kulikowski — 76.491

MORE: Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin wear 2008 leotards for Olympic watch party

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NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week: What to watch on Friday

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The Magnificent Seven’s triumph in Atlanta reairs in primetime on Friday as part of seven hours of gymnastics on NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week.

The 1996 Olympic women’s gymnastics team final airs at 8 p.m. ET, a two-hour program of the nation’s first Olympic team title.

Shannon MillerDominique DawesKerri StrugDominique MoceanuAmy ChowAmanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps thrilled 32,000 fans at the Georgia Dome in one of the highlight events of the Centennial Games. MIller and Borden will go live on Instagram during Friday’s broadcast to relive the competition.

The U.S. had a substantial lead going into their last rotation on vault. Strug was last to go, but after three straight falls from her countrywomen.

Not knowing the standings, Strug injured her left ankle on her first vault landing. She performed her second vault, a Yurchenko 1 1/2, sticking the landing but aggravating the ankle injury. It turned out she tore two ankle ligaments. It also turned out that the U.S. would have taken gold even without her 9.712 score.

The group became the first U.S. women’s team to take Olympic gold. They made a Wheaties box and inspired countless children. One example: Aly Raisman, who was given a VHS tape of the event at age 8. She watched it on a daily basis.

LIVE STREAM: NBCSN Olympic Games Week — Friday, 8 p.m.-3 a.m. ET

Later Friday, Carly Patterson becomes the second U.S. woman to win the Olympic all-around after Mary Lou Retton in the 2004 Athens final (10 p.m. ET).

Patterson, who took silver to Svetlana Khorkina at the 2003 Worlds, overtook the Russian with clutch routines on balance beam and floor exercise, her last two events. It marked the final major competition for Patterson, who was diagnosed with bulging discs in her back and announced retirement in 2006.

Four years after Patterson, her training partner Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson went one-two in the Beijing Olympic all-around (12 a.m.).

In the 1988 Olympic all-around (2 a.m.), Soviet Yelena Shushunova scored a perfect 10 on her final vault to edge Romanian Daniela Silivaş by .025. Shushunova and Silivas each tallied seven 10s at those Games, matching Nadia Comaneci‘s record from the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The top American was Brandy Johnson in 10th place.

MORE: Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin wear 2008 leotards for Olympic watch party

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NBCSN Olympic Games Week — Friday, April 24

Time (ET) Program Events Live Stream
8 p.m. Olympic Classics Women’s Gymnastics 1996 Team Final Stream Link
10 p.m. Olympic Classics Women’s Gymnastics 2004 All-Around Final Stream Link
12 a.m. Olympic Classics Women’s Gymnastics 2008 All-Around Final Stream Link
2 a.m. Olympic Classics Women’s Gymnastics 1988 All-Around Final Stream Link

 

‘Magnificent Seven’ Olympic flashback on 20th anniversary

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Twenty years ago, seven U.S. teenagers earned the first U.S. Olympic women’s team title, inspiring many of the gymnasts who have now turned America into a burgeoning dynasty in the sport.

Amanda BordenAmy ChowDominique DawesShannon MillerDominique MoceanuJaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug took gold in the Georgia Dome on July 23, 1996.

Today, NBCOlympics.com pays tribute. LINKS:

HOMEPAGE
Celebrate the 20-year anniversary

ARTICLES
Magnificent Seven:
Where are they now? | 20-year reunion
Dawes: ‘We’re getting old, and it’s awesome’
Miller: ‘Hopefully we continue to inspire’
Strug: ‘The day my life changed’

Fast Facts: 20 things you didn’t know about the Mag Seven
Quiz:
How well do you know the Magnificent Seven?

ROUTINE VIDEOS
Amanda Borden on Balance Beam
Amy Chow on Uneven Bars
Dominique Dawes on Uneven Bars

Shannon Miller on Balance Beam

Dominique Moceanu on Floor Exercise
Jaycie Phelps on Floor Exercise
Kerri Strug on Vault

Bonus: Medal Ceremony Video
Bonus: Olympians commentate Strug’s iconic vault

MORE: Analyzing U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team