Barry Davies' Olympic Moments: US gymnasts at Atlanta '96

By Barry DaviesOlympic Games broadcaster since Mexico 1968

In a 10-part series, BBC broadcaster Barry Davies recalls the most memorable Olympic moments of his 44 years on air from the Games.

This was a classic American story. More than any other race in the world, they are the people who like to say: "I was there."

And there were 32,000 inside the Georgia Dome at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, willing on the American women's gymnastics team. As far as they were concerned, they were the only gymnasts on the floor.

The United States were up against Russia and, after three of the four rotations, the Americans - who had been ahead all the way - were leading by 0.897 points. It looked comfortable.

The Americans were last on the vault, while the Russians were on the floor. The system is that you have six gymnasts who all compete on each piece of apparatus, and you can drop the lowest score.

The first four US gymnasts were solid and their score rose but the fifth, Dominique Moceanu, came over the vault and landed on her bottom.

She scored 9.200, which was low, but the US weren't worried because they could drop that score - as long as the last gymnast to go, Kerri Strug, was up to her normal form as an experienced gymnast at her second Games.

Off went Strug, down the runway and over the vault.

And just like Moceanu, she sat down. Suddenly, there was a problem. It was a big problem, because she injured her ankle in the process of landing.

A score of 9.162 came up, meaning Moceanu's score, poor as it was, would have to count. There was this great sense of feeling among the audience. Would the Russians now win at the Americans' home Olympics?

Strug had the option of a second vault, but she looked in no shape to do it. However, the American coach - Bela Karolyi, formerly the coach of superstars Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton - told her she had to go again.

Within a matter of seconds, her team-mates had persuaded her and despite her injury, off she went again. She ran amazingly well for somebody who had suffered what she had in her first fall. This time she landed without a problem, scored well, and the Americans went on to win gold.

But there is an old saying: never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The last Russian to go on the floor was a lady named Rozalia Galiyeva. With hindsight, even if Strug had not been able to vault again, the Americans were so far ahead that Galiyeva would have had to score more than 9.9 out of 10 - a score nobody in the entire event achieved.

The US would have won anyway.

That, though, is not the way American television played it that night when they went "live to tape" (which I've always thought was a contradiction in terms). Their coverage made Strug's second vault, after the injury, appear vital to winning the gold medal.

She had been brave, and there was no question about that - the cost to her ankle was considerable, and it never fully healed - but the coverage her attempt received helped to set her up for life. She became a huge personality on the media circuit, feted wherever she went.

In front of that television audience, hers was one of the greatest stories to come out of Atlanta.

It's a good story that was never a story - and now, I am as guilty as they were.