How the 1996 Magnificent Seven Olympic Gymnastics Team Was Chosen


The Olympic Trials, often seen as a tougher competition than the Olympics themselves, are usually filled with surprises and nail biting. The drama of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Race happened, for the most part, before tryouts began.

It came down to two days at the Fleet Center in Boston, three weeks before the opening ceremony. There, the top seven in the all-around were in contention to make the Olympic team.

It didn’t turn out that simple.

On the one hand, the two previous national champions – Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu — came out of the American championships three weeks earlier with injuries (wrist tendonitis, tibia fracture). They opted to apply for spots on the Olympic team rather than attempt to compete while injured in the trials.

The process: their scores from nationals would be used. It was highly unlikely that five other gymnasts would surpass Miller and Moceanu, who placed first and third respectively at the national championships. The duo watched the tryouts inside the Fleet Center. USA Gymnastics reportedly confirmed having mathematically clinched places after the first day of competition.

At the time, the two-day competition included mandatory, which counted for 60% of the final score, and options, which counted for 40%.

As for the options, the ranking looked like this:

Miller – 47.220 (nationals)
Moceanu – 47.1 (of nationals)
Jaycie Phelps—46,887
Dominique Dawes — 46.768
Kerri Strug—46.588
Amy Chow—46,377
Amanda Borden—45.913
Beth Arnold—45.568
Therese Kulikowski — 45.433

The field of 14 women included nine with world championship experience, as well as future Olympians in Kristen Maloney (2000) and Mohini Bhardwaj (2004). The way the mandatorys rocked was no surprise. Phelps finished second at the nationals, while Dawes, Strug and Borden also finished in the top six three weeks earlier.

Chow was a unique case. She finished sixth in the compulsory events at the national championships, then withdrew before the optional events due to back spasms.

At tryouts, during her final routine, she fell awkwardly off the balance beam, hitting her face against the apparatus. Chow had 10 seconds or 30 seconds to pull up the beam, depending on which report you believe. She did it in 10 seconds and completed the routine to stay comfortably in the top five.

Two of the best challengers — Kristy Powell and Therese Kulikowski — fell into the obligatory. They shared a trainer – Tom Forsterwho now oversees the United States Women’s National Team.

The last Olympic spot goes to Amanda Borden, who missed the 1992 Olympic team. Borden would be named captain of the Magnificent Seven. The final ranking of the Olympic trials:

Shannon Miller – 78,380 (Nationals)
Dominique Moceanu — 78.220 (nationals)
Dominique Dawes—78.157
Kerri Strug—78.108
Jaycie Phelps—77,736
Amy Chow—77.267
Amanda Borden—77.162

Therese Kulikowski — 76.491

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