10 Moments in Olympic Women's Gymnastics That Stunned the World
Held every four years, the Summer Olympics often mark the pinnacle of success in a gymnast’s career. One moment on this world stage can make a decade or more of grueling training sessions, sweat, and tears seem worth it. That’s what makes the Games so special, for fans and athletes alike. As we await the arrival of the Tokyo Olympics, let’s relive some of the greatest moments in Olympic women’s gymnastics history, from the first-ever perfect 10 to the stuck vault that dropped jaws around the world. Tape your ankles, buckle your grips, and get ready to experience these incredible feats of athleticism all over again.
Olga Korbut Breaks the Mold in 1972
One thing was certain at the 1972 Olympics in Munich: Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut was different. In a field previously dominated by older gymnasts emphasizing poise and elegance, the 17-year-old firecracker mesmerized the world with her daredevil moves on both the uneven bars and balance beam, raw displays of emotion, and charismatic performances, resulting in the modern archetype we see today in women’s gymnastics.
Nadia Comaneci Records the First Perfect 10 in Olympic History
Before Nadia Comaneci, perfection did not exist at the Olympic Games. The concept was so unfathomable that when the 14-year-old Romanian gymnast achieved it for the first time in 1976 on the uneven bars, the scoreboard – only equipped to display a three-digit mark – famously flashed her score as a “1.00.”
Mary Lou Retton Becomes Team USA’s First Gymnastics Superstar
In 1984, Mary Lou Retton became an American icon after winning gold in the all-around at the Los Angeles Games, a feat no female gymnast outside of Eastern Europe had ever accomplished. Her rise to superstardom inspired young girls across the country, ushering in a new era for women’s gymnastics in the United States.
An Injured Kerri Strug Lands Her Vault to Clench the Americans' First Team Gold
After injuring her ankle on her first vault, American gymnast Kerri Strug believed her teammates needed her to land another one successfully to secure the country’s first team gold medal on their home turf in Atlanta in 1996. She did just that, sticking the landing with most of her weight on one leg, before hobbling off the mat and into the arms of coach Bela Karolyi.
Svetlana Khorkina Earns Gold on the Uneven Bars After a Disappointing All-Around Finish
During the all-around competition at the 1996 Olympics, Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina missed her signature release move on the uneven bars, crashing to the ground along with her hopes of clenching a victory. After a heartbreaking 15th place finish, Khorkina put her grips back on just three days later for the uneven bars final, this time nailing the element for the gold medal.
Nastia Liukin Makes a Statement Under the New Open-Ended Code
Even if you aren’t a gymnastics fan, you’ve probably heard about the epic rivalry (and ultimately, friendship) between Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. Although Johnson was a natural fit under the modern scoring system first implemented at the 2008 Olympic Games – in which a gymnast is scored on both difficulty and execution, with no maximum limit – the powerhouse was toppled by Liukin, whose grace and artistry proved that the sport had not changed as drastically as many believed.
McKayla Maroney Puts Down a Massive Vault During the Team Final at the 2012 Olympics
Widely regarded as one of the greatest vaults of all time, McKayla Maroney stuck a flawless Amanar during the team final at the 2012 Olympics, propelling Team USA to its first gold medal since 1996. With a sky-high execution score of 9.733 out of 10.0 – combined with a difficulty score of 6.500 – Maroney’s vault received the highest mark of any routine at the London Games.
Gabby Douglas Becomes the First Black Woman to Soar to All-Around Gold
At the 2012 Games, after a neck-and-neck battle with Russia’s Viktoria Komova, Gabby Douglas became the first Black woman to win gold in the all-around in the history of Olympic gymnastics. She also became the first American gymnast to win a gold medal in both the team and all-around competitions at the same Olympics.
Sanne Wevers Pirouettes Her Way to Balance Beam Gold
Although the Code of Points encourages difficult flips – and lots of them – Dutch gymnast Sanne Wevers reminded the world that there are other ways to remain competitive in the sport of gymnastics. While collecting her difficulty points mostly from spins, she overtook Americans Laurie Hernandez and Simone Biles to win gold in the balance beam final at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio – becoming the first female gymnast to win an individual medal for the Netherlands.
Simone Biles Dominates the Field, Earning Four Gold Medals in Rio
Discussed in the same breath as some of the greatest legends in sports is American gymnast Simone Biles, who captured four gold medals and one bronze in 2016. With a sky-high 62.198, Biles won the all-around gold medal with more than a two-point lead over teammate Aly Raisman – a performance described by Nadia Comaneci as a “magnificent success.”