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How a Crush on One Olympian Turned Into Admiration for Another

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The first Olympic moment that I really remember was in 1996. I mean, I remember the Dream Team and other snippets here and there, but the 1996 Olympics were the first ones I paid close attention to. The torch went down a street a block or two from my house. It was pretty easy to watch most or all of the events live, as they were in Atlanta and I lived in Huntsville, one hour behind.

And the main thing I remember is the women's gymnastics. There, I said it. There are two reasons for this. One is kind of silly, but true: I had a crush on Dominique Moceanu, who's only one year younger than I am. Really. I bought her autobiography and everything.

But the other thing that is really most memorable for me, of course, is the team gold medal. And one round specifically. The vault, which was the point at which the United States could finish off the Russians. Even after the Cold War, it seemed like we were always fighting the Russians at the Olympics.

A lot of you know what happened. Kerri Strug was up last, and America needed a good score to make sure they would hold off the former Soviets. She kind of flubbed the first attempt and hurt herself in the process, tearing two of her ankle ligaments. At this point, things are going about as badly as they can for the Americans, though I somehow don't remember our lead being quite as dramatic as it was. It seemed close.

I do remember Strug's face as the cameras pulled in tight for the last jump. (And the local TV station picked that precise moment to splash its hourly identification across the bottom of the screen. Those things were much larger then.) And I remember watching Strug nail the landing, take that little hop that's become so familiar to us, and then collapse.

It was easily one of the most dramatic sports moments I had seen up to that point in my life. It's still one of the most dramatic sports moments I have ever seen. And it's part of what makes the Olympics so great -- the idea that athletes can come from around the world and compete for little more than patriotism. Sure, there are endorsement deals and such to be one -- but at the end of the day, you're competing for your country. And if you're competing like Kerri Strug, you're competing for keeps.

I might have had a crush on Dominique Moceanu that summer -- but, like the rest of the country, I found that it was Kerri Strug who would capture my imagination and steal a little piece of my heart.

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