Greatest American Female Gymnasts
The United States has made marked improvements with respect to their gymnastics world rankings in the past decade or so. And whenever we speak of great gymnasts that America has ever produced, some names immediately come to mind: Dominique Moceanu, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Kathy Johnson, Brandy Johnson, Julianne McNamara and more.
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As follows is a list of athletes, who I regard as America’s greatest gymnasts as they have won accolades, not only in their homeland, but also on the international stage by winning many World and/or Olympic medals, particularly the all-around title.
Grace, consistency, impeccable form, flawless technique and perfect landings are what characterized Miller’s gymnastics. She began stamping her mark as a gymnast to reckon with at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where she won silver in the all-around competition, narrowly missing the gold by the tiniest margin (0.012) in Olympic history; she went on to capture three more individual medals: a silver on balance beam and bronzes on uneven bars and floor exercise. Her haul of five Olympic medals (including a team bronze) set the record for the most gymnastics medals won by an American in a single non-boycotted Olympics. Following the 1992 Games, she became the only American to win two consecutive World all-around titles (1993, 1994); and has won titles on every apparatus except vault (1993 Worlds – bars and floor, 1994 Worlds – beam and 1996 Atlanta Olympics – beam), a total of six individual golds. She was also part of the Magnificent 7 that won the team gold at the 1996 Olympics. With nine World Championships and seven Olympic medals, an impressive combined total of sixteen, Miller is definitely America’s most decorated gymnast, male or female.
Liukin, the 2005 and 2006 US Senior National champion, certainly has inherited the best gymnastics genes there is, being the daughter of two ex-Soviet gymnasts, Valeri Liukin, an Olympic gold medallist and Anna Kotchneva, a World rhythmic gymnastics champion. In the 2005 World championship, she placed a controversial second in the all-around, losing the gold by a mere one one-thousandth of a point (0.001) due to rounding discrepancy. She also won World titles on uneven bars (2005) and balance beam (2005 and 2007). At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she won five medals (a gold in the all-around; silvers on team, bars and balance beam; and a bronze on floor), matching Miller’s record for most medals won by an American gymnast in a single Olympic Games. Furthermore, she also tied with Miller as the American gymnast with the most World championship medals at nine. She just might overtake Miller’s career medal count if she stays in gymnastics a bit longer.
This tiny bundle of energy with a very charming personality is the 2007 and 2008 US all-around champion. In the 2007 World championships, Johnson became the fourth American to gain the World all-around title; she also won the floor event finals despite having tumbled out of bounds in her first tumbling pass. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she placed second behind teammate Nastia Liukin in the all-around, and went on to take the silver on floor and the gold on beam. Her routines are packed-full of difficulties: vault – 2 ½ twisting laid out Yurchenko; Bars – double twisting double layout dismount; beam – standing tucked with a full twist; and floor – double twisting double tuck for a first tumbling pass and whip to immediate triple full. Wow, what else can be said! Only sixteen years of age, she undoubtedly has more medals to win if she does not retire from the sport.
Zmeskal was the US Senior National champion for three consecutive years (1990-1992). In the 1991 World championships in Indianapolis Indiana, she became the first American to earn the all-around title. Svetlana Boginskaya who finished second behind her controversially commented that she would have won had the championship been held in Europe. However, Zmeskal proved that her 1991 win was no accident, by winning gold medals on beam and floor at the 1992 Individual Apparatus Championships in Paris France. She entered the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as one of the medal favorites, but would return home from the Games empty-handed, having fallen off the beam during the compulsories and stepping out of bounds on floor exercise in the all-around competition. A powerful tumbler, she was noted for her trademark middle tumbling pass of floor: round-off, three consecutive whip-backs (sometimes four), back-handspring into a tucked double back.
Patterson is the 2003 World silver all-around medallist and the 2004 all-around co-champion with Courtney Kupets at the US Gymnastics Championships. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, she won the all-around gold medal, becoming the first American female gymnast to win the all-around title in a non-boycotted Olympics; and also earned a silver in the balance beam event finals. She retired shortly thereafter due to the discovery of a few bulging disks in her lower back, and embarked on a singing career.
By winning the 2005 World all-around title, Memmel became the third American woman to become a World all-around champion after Zmeskal and Miller. She is also the 2003 World champion on bars; and the 2005 silver medallist on both bars and beam. Though she is a member of the US Olympic women’s gymnastics team that won silver at the 2008 Games, she was limited to just one event, the uneven bars, having injured her ankle during a training session.
Mary Lou Retton
Retton was inspired to take up gymnastics after watching Nadia Comaneci on television, and moved to Houston, Texas from her hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia to be trained by Bela and Marta Karolyi, who also coached Comaneci. She soon made remarkable progress, placing second in the US Nationals in 1983. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which Soviet bloc nations boycotted except for Romania, she had a close battle with Ecaterina Szabo of Romania for the all-around title. She scored perfect 10s on vault and floor to secure the gold by mere five-hundredths of a point (0.05), becoming the very first female gymnast outside of Eastern Europe to clinch the Olympic all-around title. At the same Olympics, she gained four more medals: silvers in the team competition and vault; and bronzes on floor and bars.
Dawes, the 1994 US senior National champion best known for her difficult back-to-back middle tumbling pass on floor, is the first African American female along with teammate Betty Okino to win an Olympic gymnastics medal at the 1992 Atlanta Games (team bronze). She may not have won any world/Olympic all-around titles; but she did come close to winning three times. At the 1993 Worlds, she was leading after the third rotation, however, in her last event, she made the first vault but fell on the second attempting to do the trickier 1 ½ twisting layout Yurchenko instead of a full-twisting one; after both scores were averaged, she dropped to fourth place overall. The same thing happened at the 1994 Worlds and she dropped to fifth. She lost another chance to win the all-around at the 1996 Games, where she was leading after two rotations but sat down on her middle tumbling pass and finished seventeenth. In spite of these disappointments, she earned a few World and Olympic individual medals: silvers on bars and beam (1993 Worlds), bronzes on beam (1996 Worlds) and floor exercise (1996 Olympics). This three-time Olympian was also part of the Magnificent 7 that captured the team gold at the 1996 Games.
More articles on Greatest Athletes series:
- (Almost) Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Male Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- Greatest American Female Gymnasts
- Greatest American Male Gymnasts
- 10 Greatest Female Figure Skaters of All Time
- 10 Greatest Male Figure Skaters of All Time
Articles on the Olympics:
- Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Moments of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
- Unforgettable Moments of The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
- Michael Phelps: The Greatest Olympian of All Time
Golden Olympic Performances:
- Men Singles Figure Skating
- Ladies Singles Figure Skating
- Men’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise
- Men’s Gymnastics – Pommel Horse
- Men’s Gymnastics – Still Rings
- Men’s Gymnastics – Horizontal Bar
- Men’s Gymnastics – Parallel Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Uneven Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Balance Beam
- Women’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise