High hopes and expectations rested on the shoulders of Team USA superstar athlete Simone Biles as she entered the gymnastics team competition in Tokyo this week. But then, on Tuesday, there came a shocking announcement.
Shortly after Biles performed in the vault portion of the event, USA Gymnastics announced the beloved Olympian would not go forward with her team because of a “medical issue.”
The shake-up marks what will no doubt prove to be one of the most memorable moments of the Tokyo Games and certainly an unforgettable one in Team USA gymnastics history — and there have been many of those over the years.
Here’s a look back at just a few:
In 1996, the women of the U.S. gymnastics team, dubbed the "Magnificent Seven," had a lot riding on Kerri Strug’s performance in the final team event on vault. Given how tight the competition was between the United States and Russia, a strong performance from Strug looked to be the only path to secure gold. The problem was, a bad landing on her first attempt at the vault left her with an injured ankle — and the sudden need to stick the landing on her second attempt, no matter what.
Despite the odds, the 18-year-old nailed the routine and, ever so briefly, landed with both feet on the mat before hopping and then collapsing. Coach Béla Károlyi carried her to the podium to receive her medal alongside her teammates.
Mary Lou Retton
The 1984 Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles, putting Team USA on home turf and putting 16-year-old gymnast Mary Lou Retton in the spotlight.
Though it was Retton’s first (and last) Olympic Games, she shined as a star from the start, helping her team clinch the silver, while she took another silver in individual vault and two bronzes for the uneven bars and floor exercise respectively, and most spectacularly of all, she went on to win gold in the all-around — a first-time feat for any American gymnast, and one that also landed her the coveted spot on the front of the Wheaties box.
When it comes to firsts, Olympian Dominique Dawes has had her share of them.
Like Strug, Dawes was a member of the "Magnificent Seven" at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, meaning that she, too, won team gold that year and also an individual bronze medal for her floor exercise — making her the first Black female gymnast to win an individual medal at the Olympics. Four years earlier in Barcelona, Dawes and teammate Betty Okino became the first Black gymnasts to take home Olympic medals after the U.S. team secured the bronze.
Dawes, now 44, is also one of just three female U.S. gymnasts to compete at three different Olympic Games: Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000).
Even after Dawes’ impressive list of first-time achievements, there was another remarkable first to be had at the 2012 London Olympics. That’s when a 16-year-old Gabby Douglas took the gold in the all-around, becoming the first Black all-around champion and the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in that event and the team competition at the same Games.
Yet another member of the "Magnificent Seven" makes the list with Dominique Moceanu. Her team victory in 1996 at just 14 years old made her the youngest U.S. gymnast to ever win gold — a record she’s likely to keep as the International Gymnastics Federation later adjusted the minimum age requirement for Olympic eligibility.
After participating in the Olympic Games in 1992 and 1996, Shannon Miller earned the distinction as the most decorated U.S. female Olympic gymnast of all time, with two gold, two silver and three bronze medals to her name.
And then there’s the woman known to fans as the GOAT — the greatest of all time. While Miller is the most decorated U.S. female Olympic gymnast, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast of all time when including all senior competitions. And while she’s making headlines now for stepping out of the team competition in Tokyo, it’s worth remembering her incredible performance at the 2016 Rio Games.
That’s where she won the gold medals for team, all-around, vault and floor exercise, not to mention a bronze for balance beam. She also went on to hold the flag for Team USA at the closing ceremony, which had never been done by a female gymnast before.