Women’s gymnastics has been an official sport of the Summer Olympics since 1928, when the first female Olympic gymnasts competed in Amsterdam. Since then it has become one of the most popular sports in international games. Here’s a look at some of the sport’s most memorable moments in Olympic history.
1. USA wins first team medal in women’s gymnastics
The 1948 London Olympics marked the return of the Olympics after World War II and also marked the first time the U.S. women’s gymnastics team had won a medal in the team competition. The American team received the bronze medal, following Hungary with silver and Czechoslovakia with gold.
Team captain Clara Schroth Lomady, 27, then set a record by winning six all-around titles at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. She remained the only woman to win so many all-around titles until Simone Biles equaled her record in 2019 and beat it in 2021.
2. Olga Korbut performs her famous flip
One of the most popular athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 was Olga Korbut, a 17-year-old gymnast from the Soviet Union. Korbut won three gold medals and wowed audiences with his daring stunts. She was the first Olympic gymnast to do a back somersault on the beam and also the first to do a back flip to catch the uneven bars. This last movement is now known as “Korbut Flip”.
3. Nadia Comăneci wins the first Perfect 10
In 1976, 14-year-old Nadia Comăneci became the first gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 in an Olympic event. When the Romanian athlete got the perfect score for his uneven bars performance at the Montreal Olympics, the scoreboard couldn’t even display it as the board was only designed to show three digits, not the required four. to display a “10.00”.
Comăneci ended up scoring six more Perfect 10s at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and won three gold medals.
4. Mary Lou Retton Rises to Fame
In 1984, 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton became the first gymnast outside Eastern Europe to win the gold medal in the individual all-around. Retton was inspired to become a gymnast by Comăneci’s historic performance at the 1976 Olympics. She even trained with Comăneci’s coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, who left Romania for the United States in 1981.
Retton had two perfect scores of 10s at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, one for his floor routine and a second for his famous vault. Retton’s triumphant pose after his safe made the cover of Illustrated sports, who named her Sportswoman of the Year. She also became the first American gymnast to appear on a Wheaties box and to be named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
5. Dominique Dawes becomes the first black American gymnast to win an Olympic medal
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics were a major year for American women’s gymnastics. The US team, dubbed the “Magnificent Seven”, won the country’s first gold medal in the women’s gymnastics team competition. After team member Kerri Strug injured her ankle (more on that later), 19-year-old Dominique Dawes ended up taking Strug’s place in the individual floor exercise. Dawes won bronze in this competition, becoming the first black American to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics.
6. Kerri Strug sticks the landing with a bad peg
One of the stars of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was 18-year-old Kerri Strug. On his first jump, Strug awkwardly landed on his ankle and tore two ligaments. Gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, the same man who had coached Comăneci and Retton, pressured her to make her second jump instead of retiring. She stuck the landing, hopping on one leg for the crowd before collapsing in pain. Subsequently, she had to be removed from the podium.
7. Gabby Douglas wins all around gold
At the London 2012 Olympics, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas became the first black American to win a gold medal in the individual multiple gymnastics category. She and her team, known as the “Fierce Five,” also won a gold medal in the all-around team, making them the second American team to do so after the Magnificent Seven in 1996. With these victories, Douglas became the first American to win gold medals in team and individual competitions.
8. Simone Biles debuts and dazzles
By the time Simone Biles, 19, attended the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she was already an international star athlete with ten gold medals at the World Championships. During the Rio Olympics, Biles won three gold medals for the individual events and a fourth gold which the US team, nicknamed the “Final Five,” won together. As the winner of 30 Olympic and world championship medals and the only woman to hold seven all-around U.S. championship titles, she is currently America’s most decorated gymnast and will be one of the Games’ star athletes. Tokyo Olympics in 2021.