Strug to rest . . . for now Injured gymnast eyes event final Sunday

Atlanta Olympics

July 25, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Injured American gymnast Kerri Strug made the round of talk shows yesterday. Somewhere between NBC's "The Today Show" in the morning and CNN's "Talk Back Live" in the afternoon, the 18-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., came to a decision expected by everyone who watched her badly injure her left ankle in Tuesday night's optional finals: She would not compete in today's all-around competition at the Georgia Dome.

"I'm disappointed about my ankle," said Strug. "I made a decision to pull out of the all-around competition so I can compete in the event finals [Sunday and] Monday. I'll have a much better chance if I wait and rest it."

Strug, who suffered a third-degree lateral sprain and two torn ligaments in the two vaults that completed the first-ever gold-medal performance of the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympic Games, is holding out hope for a miraculous recovery that would allow her to participate in the two event finals early next week for which she qualified.

"She basically [has] what we would expect following an injury of this type," said Dr. John Lehginan, head physician for the U.S. Olympic team. "We are aggressively treating it by our athletic training staff and [her status is] day-to-day."

According to Luan Peszek, a spokeswoman for USA Gymnastics, Strug had her ankle in an ice-filled medical boot and her foot was raised when the team met yesterday. But Strug was going to try to go through a light workout with the rest of the team later in the day.

Strug's place in the all-around competition will be taken by 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu. Shannon Miller, who finished second in the compulsories and optionals, and Dominique Dawes of Gaithersburg, Md., who was sixth, also will compete in the all-around.

"She has a badly sprained ankle and it will take some time to heal," Melanie Strug, Kerri's mother, said in a statement released by the U.S. Olympic Committee prior to her daughter announcing the decision not to compete. "She's very excited and happy about winning the gold medal. However, she is disappointed about not being sure if she will be able to compete or not compete in the all-around and event individual finals."

Strug had qualified for the all-around competition for the first time, finishing seventh overall and third among the U.S. team members. The all-around competition consists of the top 36 individual scores from the compulsories and optionals, with a maximum of three per country.

Strug had made the event finals in both the floor and, ironically, the vault. The vault final is scheduled for Sunday, and the floor final is Monday.

Only a rule change following the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona allowed Strug or any other injured gymnast to compete in event finals here without being in the all-around. But while she had helped the U.S. women's team win its first gold medal in Olympic competition, Strug saw her goal of making the all-around wiped away.

The score she received after sticking her last vault -- a 9.712 -- had displaced Moceanu, who had fallen on both her vault attempts.

"There are mixed emotions," Strug said during a news conference Tuesday night after returning from the hospital, where X-rays for a possible broken ankle proved negative. "I'm excited we won the team gold. I had a goal of making the individual all-around. I didn't accomplish it in 1992 [as a member of the Olympic team]. And now, to achieve it, and possibly not be able to compete, is very disappointing."

Said Melanie Strug: "We are really proud of her. She thought she had to do that to win the gold medal. She's very determined. She wanted to do it for the team, the country and herself."

Moceanu also said that she had mixed emotions. She had gotten to know Strug in the past few months when Strug, a former pupil of Bela Karolyi's, had returned to his Houston gym after working with four different coaches following Karolyi's first retirement four years ago. But it also was apparent that Moceanu, who has been billed as the next Mary Lou Retton, was happy to possibly get a second chance.

"I really wanted to be in the all-around," said Moceanu, whose two slips on the vault caused her to fall to 11th overall. "It kind of reminded me of watching Tatiana [Gutsu of the Unified Team] in 1992. She fell twice on her vault and ended up winning the all-around. That's given me a little inspiration."

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Gutsu fell to fourth among her teammates after missing twice on the vault. Team officials claimed the next day that the gymnast who finished third suffered an injury and couldn't compete in the all-around. Gutsu did, and won the gold medal. "That's not how we do it in this country," said Martha Karolyi, the U.S. team's head coach.

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