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.

Shannon Miller

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.

Nastia Liukin

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.

Shawn Johnson

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.

Kim Zmeskal

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.

Carly Patterson

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.

Chellsie Memmel

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.

Dominique Dawes

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:

Articles on the Olympics:

Golden Olympic Performances:

Olympic Greats:

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28 Comments
  1. Unofre Pili
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Very informative. Gymnastics is one of the sports I never tire watching. Thanks for sharing kabayan.

  2. Meowlody
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 11:07 am

    You’re missing a very influential gymnast – Dominique Moceanu!

  3. BunnygotBlog
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Love Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

  4. Josey
    Posted August 23, 2008 at 3:44 am

    Nicely done.

  5. eddiego65
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Dominique Moceanu was a great gymnast. And she could have been one of the greatest gymnasts had not injuries, coach problems and personal problems hindered her from living up to her fullest potentials.
    I really love her bubbly personality. I’m also impressed by the fact that she had unbelievably difficult routines at a very young age that led her to become the youngest US national champion.

  6. Claris
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    very informative, great article

  7. nice
    Posted August 25, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    more close up pics

  8. Luke
    Posted August 27, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Correction: Shawn won 3 silvers and a gold not 2 silvers a bronze and a gold as it says previously

  9. eddiego65
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Thanks for the correction, Luke.

    For this article, I focused more on individual medals rather than on team medals. In the Beijing Games, Shawn won individual medals of two silvers and a gold. But if I include the silver won by the US team, that would total to three silvers.

    Thanks for reading my article. Take care and God bless you!

  10. nobert soloria bermosa
    Posted August 29, 2008 at 3:17 am

    the Philippines should have a comprehensive program for future gymnasts so that we can create gymnasts like them

  11. eddiego65
    Posted August 29, 2008 at 5:30 am

    I do agree, Nobert. Filipinos have the ideal physique to be in the sports of gymnastics. However, the sport is not as popular as our national sport of basketball and boxing. In fact, gymnasts who earned medals at Asian Games or South East Asian Games rarely made the headlines. And if they did, they are soon forgotten. So sad.

  12. Verniel Cutar
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Eddie, we had a female gymnast before who took home medals from the Asian games. What’s her name? I forgot.

  13. eddiego65
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Verniel, probably you are speaking about Bea Lucero, who won some medals not in the Asian Games but in the South East Asian Games.

  14. eddiego65
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Bea Lucero won sometime in the late 1980s or the early 1990s. Then changed sport to Taekwondo.

  15. nalam
    Posted September 13, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Good list. I think Kathy Johnson and Julianne McNamara should be added to the list, though. If you had room for a couple of more after those two, Cathy Rigby and Betty Okino achieved some good results. And if you don’t mind a gymnast not really being a top all-around gymnast but a good “specialist,” Alicia Sacramone would be someone to think about as well.

  16. Hello
    Posted September 13, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Miller beat real gymnasts. Nastia has benefitted from a bad code and no competition. The Soviets are gone, Romanians are nearly dead.

    Moceanu doesn’t even deserve a mention.

  17. Cool
    Posted September 14, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    To be consistent, it should be mentioned that Memmel has 6 World Championship medals total, including three gold.

    Shannon and Nastia have their total medal counts listed, so it’s only fair to do that for everyone else as well.

  18. Continued
    Posted September 14, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Is this list in a particular rank order? Because in that case, Mary Lou should be ahead of Zmeskal and Patterson, regardless of whether or not the Olympics were boycotted.

    Also, Julianne McNamara should be on this list. She has three Olympic medals, including an individual gold, the first ever for an American gymnast. I’d put her right behind Dawes, who had more total medals and more longevity.

    Overall, thanks for the list. It’s great. I hope Nastia can become a multiple time Olympian like Shannon and overtake her in the rankings.

  19. Good list
    Posted September 14, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    I never thought of Carly Patterson as someone who should be on this list. I know she won one of the only Olympic AA Golds, but she was such a flash in the pan. She is the only one of the former gymnasts on this list that quit right after the Olympics. She’s not very memorable, in my opinion.

  20. eddiego65
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Hi,

    Hello, Miller may not have the most difficult routines, but she made it up with consistency, flawless technique, good form and perfect landings. Other gymnasts may have more difficult routines, but they lack the necessary attributes.

    Continued, I did not consider the fact the some Games were boycotted in making the list. I gave the same weight for the gold medal earned in games, whether they were boycotted or not.

    And since the list is about individual achievements of the gymnasts, I did not count medals won as a team, no matter what color it is. Also I placed more weight on AA titles won than event titles, that’s why some are ranked higher than others. And I did not consider the longevity of the gymnasts or their impact in the sports. All are ranked according to the total weight of the medals earned. The notable exception is Dawes, since she was such a great gymnasts who almost won the AA three times but fell short due to falls on vault and floor, but have lots of individual event medals.

    Thanks for your comments. I value your feedback.

  21. Lisa
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    In what universe did Miller not have difficulty? The full in off beam, two full in’s on floor. She choose to do well rounded beautiful routines with amazing form and technique.
    Miller’s 96 beam routine was more difficult then Nastia’s 2008 routine that won a silver medal. Miller did the same vault and her floor had actual skills not just one cowboyed double front. Only event she had less then in difficulty was bars and she was never healthy enough to upgrade those from 94- on. The Chusovitna to a geinger and tckhtev (sp) was pretty underrated. Miller was one of the only gymnasts to land that Chusovitna in handstand and fully complete the move.
    She didn’t have insane difficulty but very few gymnasts did back then and Miller did her gymnastics with the best overall presentation of anyone in that quad. The gymnasts today don’t have ha;f the presentation Miller had and this is coming from a Dawes fan that never appreciated Miller until she retired.

  22. Lisa
    Posted September 15, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    I loved Dawes but if she gets credit for almost winning then you have to acknowledge that others made mistakes also in those AA’s.
    It took me 12 years to admit this to myself.lol I am so glad I grew up”)

  23. eddiego65
    Posted September 16, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Thanks, Lisa, for your comments.

    I agree on your sentiments on Miller’s gymnastics. I did not say that Miller’s routines weren’t difficult, I just stated that she may not have the most difficult routines compared to the other gymnasts. There are other gymnasts with extremely difficult tricks but their performances were riddled with inconsistencies.

    I did not neglect others who made mistakes in those AA’s. But I considered Dawes because she almost won a lot of times compared to others. It was uncharacteristic of Dawes, who have always been consistent in her home country, but failed to secure the all-around in World or Olympic competitions. That’s the reason I considered her in the list.

    :)

  24. katie
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    I think zmeskal should place higher than shawn

  25. Posted October 12, 2009 at 1:50 pm

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  26. tgif
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

    This is cool!

  27. Posted February 15, 2010 at 3:23 am

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  28. Jamie
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Miller has plenty of difficulty and what she did not have was more then made up for in form and technique something Dawes never had which is why she was pathetic at compulsories. Dawes had no more difficulty than Miller. Her bars routine didn’t even have a release move in 94. Her hindorff was the only difficult skill she had over Miller.

    Moceanu should not be on the list. One individual worlds medal does not make her the best of anything. She was overrated.

    Dawes choked all the time when the pressure was on. Her compulsories due to her lack of technique were her issue. You also fail to mention that others made mistakes in those AA’s to and they still scored better then Dawes.If she doesn’t fall is a cop out because then you have to erase everyones mistakes.

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