London 2012: Why Vault Is Vital to U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team's Bid for Gold

Emily BayciContributor IIIJune 1, 2012

The 1996 Team USA women's gymnastics team after winning the gold medal.
The 1996 Team USA women's gymnastics team after winning the gold medal.Mike Powell/Getty Images

It has been 16 years since the U.S. women's gymnastics team has hoisted team gold medals. Three Olympic games have passed...will the 2012 crowd be able to break the drought?

Remember the only time U.S. women’s gymnastics ever won an Olympic gold? It was at the 1996 Atlanta Games. 

Remember what it was at the Atlanta games that pushed America past the bronze 16 years ago?

It was Kerri Strug’s heroic vault. She injured herself in her first attempt then hobbled to do her second vault. She stuck the landing on one foot and then collapsed to the ground in pain.

She scored a 9.712 to lock up America’s only team gold medal. Yes, it must be acknowledged that the U.S.A. would have won without Strug’s vault, but no one knew that at the time. 

The vault is a vital event for the gold, because it’s an event with high risk but high reward. It’s often called a 12-second marathon, broken up into five distinct parts: the run, the pre-flight (otherwise known as the jump), the connection with the table, the post-flight and the landing. 

People are often scared of attempting complex and high-difficulty vaults because the vault has always been one of the most dangerous events in gymnastics.

At at meet in Japan in 1988, American gymnast Julissa Gomez had a vault accident leading to paralysis and died three years later due to injury complications.

In 1998, Sang Lan, a Chinese gymnast, fell while warming up for the vault at the Goodwill Games and also became paralyzed.

Kerri Strug is carried by her coach after completing the heroic vault in the 1996 Olympic Games.
Kerri Strug is carried by her coach after completing the heroic vault in the 1996 Olympic Games.Mike Powell/Getty Images

During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, several gymnasts had issues because the vault height was set too low. It was later corrected, and the affected gymnasts were offered the chance to retake their vaults. Though some did, the mistake could have been a dangerous one.

The risk of injury prevents a lot of countries from attempting high-difficulty vaults.

The U.S. squad should take the risk so it can capitalize on their gymnasts who are comfortable with complex vaults. This means the best bet is picking specific gymnasts with strong vaults for slots on the 2012 team, like McKayla Maroney, the 2011 world vault champion.

Maroney has the ability to perform one of the best Amanar vaults ever, where the gymnast performs a round-off onto the board, a back handspring onto the horse and a 2.5 twisting back flip off the horse.

Alicia Sacramone is the 2010 world vault champion, and team captain of the 2008 Olympic team. She has a very strong vault but is rehabbing a torn Achilles.

There are also several U.S. all-arounders with strong vaults, like Jordyn Wieber, who has an Amanar vault, and Aly Raisman, who consistently presents a clean performance.

The women have two opportunities for vault routines, meaning there’s less of a risk when attempting complex vaults. If America puts some complex routines forward they can use the vault to create a sizable advantage over their opponents. 

This could be what puts the U.S.A. over the edge and helps them break the drought of a team gold.

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