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Gold medal inspires gymnastic dreams

Kerri Strug accomplished a lot Tuesday night when she nailed her final vault and secured the first-ever Olympic gold medal for U.S. women gymnasts in team competition.

There certainly will be more awards, presentations and honors, not to mention a renewed respect for gymnasts.

But the one thing Strug could not do was stop the phones from ringing at Citrus Gymnastics. It is doubtful anything can stop that _ especially these days.

"I think that them winning the team gold for the first time in forever has done a lot for the sport," said Cari Ferrara, a Citrus Gymnastics instructor.

"Not just after last night, but ever since the Olympics started this phone has been ringing off the hook. People just want to get their kids out here and see what they can do."

The U.S. team's victory has done more than just stir interest among parents around the county. Of the millions of people watching Strug and her high-profile teammates Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu zip through high bar exercises or bound across the floor, perhaps the most interested were some aspiring gymnasts.

"It was pretty exciting," said 13-year-old Shannon Greer, who has been performing gymnastics for about a year. "I knew Kerri Strug would pull it off."

There might never again be an image as remarkable or inspiring as Strug's final vault Tuesday night, followed by her crumbling to the mat as pain shot through her left ankle. In one motion, she secured a gold medal for the team and a place in history for herself.

"It was really neat to see that because the U.S. had never won a gold before," 9-year-old Toby Arden said. "When I came in here today, that made me want to try a little bit harder."

"It was exciting when Kerri Strug landed the vault on one foot," said Regine Hugel, a 13-year-old who is considered one of the best gymnasts at Citrus Gymnastics. "That just goes to show you how good of a gymnast she is. To be able to do that while she was hurt is real hard."

Amanda Haugen, 12, was happy she got to stay up late and watch her country do something they had never done before, especially in a sport in which she is directly involved.

"It felt real good when they received the gold medals," Haugen said. "I thought that was nice of them to carry her up to the stand so she could be with her team. They could have just left her there, but she was the one that won the gold for them."

As a result, the phones continue to ring at the front desk of Citrus Gymnastics, and Ferrara said it is easy to see why.

"I was glued to the couch the entire time. By the end of the night I was crying," she said. "That's an inspiration for all the gymnasts that aspire to be in the Olympics someday."