EXTENDED VOICES: Kerri Strug Reflects on '96 Olympics

July 16, 2006 — -- Ten years ago next week, 17-year-old Kerri Strug struck gold at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Now a worker battling juvenile crime for the Department of Justice, Strug recently reflected on her Olympic win with ABC News' "This Week."

Kerri Strug: Well, it's hard to believe it's been 10 years since Atlanta. You know, in some aspects, it seems just like yesterday. But I think I've done a lot since then. I've had some amazing opportunities that have come out of what we accomplished as a team in Atlanta. And I've tried to kind of utilize my position to make a difference, to contribute to society in different ways. I go around the country and speak to different organizations and corporations and for so long, you know, I've always dreamt of being the next Mary Lou and to accomplish your dream at the age of 18 is just amazing. You know, that was the highlight of my life.

I think from the time I was six years old and I watched Mary Lou Retton win her gold medal at the 1984 summer games, I dreamed of being the next Olympic champion. And I would watch her videos over and over again, and when the National Anthem would play I would think about myself up there on the podium and what I would be thinking and feeling.

And 12 long years later, in Atlanta, there I was. For so many of us, you hear your teachers or your parents or your idols tell you, "Work hard. Anything's possible." I do it now when I go to these camps or I go to different conferences with youth and tell them, "Really work hard at what you love. Find your passion and, you know, the sky's the limit."

But until you actually live it and accomplish it, it's just words. And for me, it's a moment I'll cherish forever, being up there on the awards podium. And I think for so long I thought I knew exactly how my Olympic experience was to go and I had prepared so long and hard for it to enact in a certain way and it didn't go according to plan at all.

I never imagined that I would be injured, that everything would be up to me. For so long in the gymnastics community, I was kind of known as the bridesmaid. I worked really hard and I was always up there, but I was never the focus. I wasn't the Kim Zmeskal, the Shannon Miller, the Dominique Moceanu.

I had a lot of talent and I worked really hard. But mentally, whenever all eyes were on me, I'd kind of falter. And so the vault signifies a lot more to me personally than a lot of what the public realizes, because in my final international competition at the Olympic Games, it doesn't get any bigger than that.

I was the last competitor on the vault and we thought it was up to me to clinch that gold medal. And for so many years -- I mean, since 1991 -- I was up there, but wasn't able to kind of handle the pressure when it counted most.

And, finally, after all those days and nights in the gym, and Bela making me do those vaults over and over and over again, I was able to kind of believe in myself and my talent and all the work and effort that not only myself, but my parents and my coach and teammates have put in and make it happen. Just go on automatic pilot and do what I knew how to do best.

So it signifies a lot to me personally because for so long, you know, when all eyes were on me, I kind of would do alright but not my best, and I finally pulled through.

So not only was it the gold medal, but it was: Kerri Strug finally learned how to focus and believe in herself when she needed to most. And that's something that I carry with me every day now -- the self-confidence I gained from achieving my goals and doing it under adverse circumstances.

Now every day in life, when maybe I'm faced with a challenge or when I see someone else that is, I know that those clichés that everybody was giving me through the years really mean something.

So Atlanta definitely changed the course of my life and how I perceive my everyday actions.