1996 Olympics Flashback: Shannon Miller, the Most Decorated Olympic Gymnast in U.S. History
Her five medals were the highest amount won by any American in any sport in Barcelona
Most people remember the 1996 Olympics because of Kerri Strug‘s vault on an injured ankle. And well they should – it’s rightly become the stuff of Olympic legend.
But headed into the 1996 Summer Olympics, eyes were on another member of the women’s gymnastic team (or, as they were dubbed, the Magnificent Seven): Shannon Miller.
Miller started training in gymnastics when she was 5 years old. At 12, she finished third in the 1989 Olympic Festival – a sort of junior Olympics. Through the early 1990s, Miller would embark on an impressive international record: Two perfect 10’s on the balance beam at the Swiss Cup and Arthur Gander Memorial in 1990 and 1991; two silver medals in the 1991 World Championships, and five medals at the 1992 Olympics. While she missed out on the gold for the all-around by the closest margin in Olympic history – .012 points – she took the silver in that category, the silver in the balance beam and bronze medals in the team, uneven bars and floor exercise categories. Her five medals were the highest amount won by any American in any sport in Barcelona.
Miller became the first American to win back-to-back all-around World Championships in 1993 and 1994. 1995’s World Championships broke her streak, and she failed to medal at all that year with the exception of the team category.
Miller came into the 1996 Summer Olympics recovering from tendonitis in her left wrist and a pulled hamstring. Despite a freak incident where she got chalk in her eye during a warm-up, Miller became the first American to win the balance beam as the Magnificent Seven became the first women’s American team to win the overall gold.
Miller was ultimately inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame twice, as an individual and for her team. After she completed the talk show and touring circuit that the Magnificent Seven undertook after their win – which forced her to confront her fear of public speaking – she went on to graduate from the University of Houston in 2003 with a B.B.A. in Marketing and Entrepreneurship and subsequently graduated from Boston College Law School in 2007.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and Miller, 39, is an entrepreneur, a mother and a cancer survivor. After undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer in 2010 and 2011, she’s become an advocate for early detection and screenings. And she’ll be returning to the Olympics in August, to provide commentary.
“I thank God every day that I’m here,” Miller told PEOPLE in June. “Even when tough things happen, I do my best to find something positive to focus on.”