Many Olympic heroes have come from the ranks of female U.S. gymnasts. From Mary Lou Retton to Nastia Liukin, these Olympic icons have helped elevate the sport's popularity and make the United States a world power in women's gymnastics. Their dazzling routines and flawless finishes have made for compelling Olympic storylines every four years.
These 10 women stand out as some of the greatest U.S. gymnasts to ever compete in the Olympics:
1. Nastia LiukinLiukin's legacy is still being defined as she heads to the 2012 London Olympics. If she can duplicate her performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there's a chance she could turn out to be one of the greatest Olympians in U.S. History. Liukin became the third American to claim an Olympic gold medal in the individual all-around competition. She eventually matched the record held by Shannon Miller and Mary Lou Retton of five individual medals in a single Olympics.
2. Shannon MillerMore than a decade after her Olympic career ended, Miller remains the most decorated Olympic gymnast in U.S. history. She matched Retton's Olympic record with five individual medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Miller put on an incredible performance. She competed in 16 events and scored 9.90 or higher in all but three. Miller served up an appropriate encore in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when she won an individual gold on the balance beam and helped her teammates capture a team gold medal.
3. Carly Patterson
Patterson may not have been the first U.S. female gymnast to win an individual all-around gold medal. The fact she did it against stiffer competition than what her predecessor faced made it feel more special. Patterson beat Russian world champion Svetlana Khorkina in a major Olympic upset. And she did it with flair. Patterson seized the lead for good on a near-perfect routine and dismount on the beam and clinched her spot in Olympic history.
4. Shawn JohnsonJohnson paired with teammate Nastia Liukin to make Olympic history. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Johnson claimed a silver medal in the individual all-around after finishing second to Liukin. They were the first American duo to accomplish that feat at the Olympics. Johnson snagged a bit of individual glory when she won a gold medal on the balance beam. She also helped her team claim a sliver medal.
5. Mary Lou RettonAlthough Retton faced watered-down competition as a result of an Olympic boycott, her all-around gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics meant more for the growth of women's gymnastics domestically than any other result. Retton sealed her victory in style, scoring a perfect 10 on the vault in the final rotation. It marked the first step toward the U.S. becoming a power in women's gymnastics.
6. Dominique DawesYou can include Dawes in the list of pioneering African-American athletes who achieved great success in their careers. Dawes won team Olympic medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000 -- becoming the first U.S. gymnast to accomplish that feat. She also became the first African-American gymnast to medal in an individual event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when she replaced injured teammate Keri Strug in the floor exercise final and won bronze in the event.
7. Keri StrugStrug delivered one of the sport's most iconic moments in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Ignoring a badly injured ankle, Strug took her second vault. She stuck the landing on one good leg and then collapsed in agony. Her pain was her team's gain. Strug's gutty performance helped the U.S. team clinch its first Olympic gold medal in women's gymnastics.
8. Amy ChowSuccess came to Chow throughout her gymnastics career. She was a part of the gold medal-winning team in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and helped the U.S. claim a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Chow added an individual medal, winning silver on the uneven bars in Atlanta. She was the first Asian-American woman to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics.
9. Julianne McNamaraRetton was not the only star to emerge out of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. McNamra made history when she scored a perfect 10 in the uneven bar finals and became the first U.S. woman to win a gold medal in an individual gymnastics event.
10. Annia Hatch
Hatch, a Cuban immigrant, made a memorable comeback from injury to medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. After tearing her ACL at the 2003 World Championships, Hatch only competed in the vault at Athens. Her knee was not fully healed, but that did not stop Hatch from completing her return with a silver medal in the vault and helping the U.S. team claim silver.John Coon has covered gymnastics as a sports reporter for many publications and wire services. He and his girlfriend have also been past season ticket holders for University of Utah gymnastics meets.
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