8 Surprising Moments In Gymnastics History: Wieber, Biles, USA Men, & More

In a sport where there are many contenders for first place and any mistake or perfectly executed routine can change the outcome of a meet, there are plenty of shocking moments in gymnastics history. Here are eight moments that surprised fans and changed the results of a meet, for better or for worse. 

1. Jordyn Wieber forced out of the London all-around

Despite everyone thinking Wieber would make it into the Olympic all-around competition in 2012, the “two per country” rule left Wieber out of the playing field. 

Due to her previous record, everyone expected Wieber to not only make it out of prelims, but also win gold in the all-around competition. She unexpectedly placed fourth in prelims, making her the third-place gymnast from the U.S. team behind Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, and forcing her out of the competition. After winning all-around at Worlds in 2011, this was a huge surprise to many. 

2. Bronze for the USA men at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

After Paul and Morgan Hamm withdrew from the competition due to injuries, many expected the 2008 U.S. Men’s Olympic team to flop. Paul was the reigning all-around gold medalist, and the brothers often led the team with their scores. However, the team completely surprised the American public, taking bronze and standing proudly on the podium. 

3. Chellsie Memmel winning 2005 Worlds

At the 2005 World Championships, the all-around title was anyone’s to take. Nastia Liukin, Jana Bieger and Alicia Sacramone competed alongside Memmel for the U.S., making the competition a strong one. It was not a huge shock when Memmel beat Liukin for first place all-around, as Memmel was a strong competitor at the top of her game, but as she had recently placed second to Liukin at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, it was certainly not a given that she would win. 

The most surprising news of that meet was how she won: by 0.001 over Liukin who finished second, making Memmel the first American woman since 1994 to win all-around at Worlds, as well as the third American woman ever to take first. 

4. Alicia Sacramone’s Olympic fall

At the 2008 Olympics, the U.S. women were hoping for gold. Alicia Sacramone, known for her consistency and leadership, was named captain of the 2008 team. During the team competition, Sacramone unexpectedly fell on both floor and beam, shocking the crowd and putting team USA in second place to China. Sacramone fell on a tumbling pass on floor and her beam mount, a surprising turn of events from such a steady competitor. Sacramone was of course not solely to blame for the silver medal, as teammates made mistakes that could have cost them the spot as well, even without her falls. 

5. The Magnificent Seven claim gold in 1996

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympics was often referred to as the Magnificent Seven, and for good reason: they were seven gymnasts with incredible talent. Up until the 1996 Olympics, Russia and Romania generally battled for gold, and the Magnificent Seven went down in history as the first American gold medalists in women’s gymnastics. As Russia and Romania were expected to beat the U.S., it was quite shocking to see the U.S. take first, especially after a dramatic end to the meet with Kerri Strug’s vault. 

6. Kerri Strug’s One-Legged Vault

At the 1996 Olympic games, Kerri Strug was last up on the final event, vault. To win Team USA first place, all Strug had to do was land a solid vault. On her first attempt she fell, jamming her ankle. This was quite shocking, due to her predictability and consistency on this event, but her fall was not as shocking as what happened next. To win gold she still had to land a good vault, so she threw her second vault and landed on one leg to secure Team USA first place. Later she would learn that she competed on a broken ankle, but at the time she just knew she had to complete the vault to help her team. This iconic moment became a huge part of gymnastics history, but at the time, it was surprising to everyone watching. 


7. Simone grabs the beam

At the 2016 Olympic Games, Simone Biles was expected to perform perfectly. After all, she was dominating first place all-around at most of the meets she competed in! She competed well at the Olympic Games, her only mistake being grabbing the beam during beam finals. Gymnastics fans were less surprised than most of the public watching, though, as Biles made the same mistake of grabbing the beam to avoid a fall on a front tuck in the 2015 Worlds all-around final, as well.

8. Mary Lou Retton’s Olympic recognition

Five weeks before she had to compete in the 1984 Olympic Games, Retton had knee surgery. There was speculation that the injury and short recovery time would hurt her performance, but she shocked everyone by earning perfect 10s on floor and vault — two events where landings impact the knees greatly — along with winning the all-around gold. 

As surprising as this turn of events was, possibly more surprising was General Mills putting her on their cereal box, Wheaties. She was the first athlete on the box in seven years, and the first woman to ever be on the box.


Miranda Martin is a freelance writer who writes about gymnastics, social justice issues, and more. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or contact her through her website.

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