Magnificent Seven, Olympics, Amanda Borden, Dominique Dawes, Amy Chow, Jaycie Phelps, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Kerri Strug

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It's late in July of 1996. The city of Atlanta, Ga., has been abuzz with the summer Olympics. Muhammad Ali lit the torch during the Opening Ceremonies. Andre Agassi secured his career Grand Slam. Michael Johnson was running around the track in his gold Nikes

But on the night of the 23rd, the entire world was glued to their television to watch a group of teenage girls make history. They were known then simply as the U.S. women's gymnastic team, but they would soon become the Magnificent Seven. To those too young to remember, this may sound like a dramatic moniker, but it's nothing short of appropriate. This group—Dominique DawesDominique MoceanuShannon MillerKerri StrugJaycie PhelpsAmy Chow and team captain Amanda Borden—were viral stars before viral was even a word. (Or, at least, a word used to describe anything but a rapidly-spreading disease outbreak.) They were Internet sensations before anyone used the Internet; which is to say they were just sensations in every sense. 

Tomorrow marks the Opening Ceremonies of yet another Olympics, and one in which the U.S. women's gymnastics team will again play a pivotal role in the medal count. So what better occasion than now to look back on the best pop culture moment of the Games. 

First and foremost, props must be given to the Win Heard 'Round the World. It was the win that brought America back together again. Dare we say, it was the win that made America great again—great at the Olympics, that is. For a little context, it's worth rehashing the Magnificent Seven's commendations. They of course won the team gold medal with some near-record scores, but beyond that Shannon Miller won the individual gold medal for the balance beam, becoming only the third-ever gymnast to score a first-place finish in an individual competition, and the first in a non-boycotted Olympics. 

But more than their flashy gold medals and the bragging rights bestowed upon America for what was basically infinity, the win proved just how much fans could band together. When the Magnificent Seven headed out to compete for the final evening at the Georgia Dome, they were met to thunderous applause from 33,000 screaming spectators; when they pulled off their victory, they were met with endless fascination that was enough to fuel several national tours, several best-selling books about the team's win, and countless talk show appearances.

For whatever reason, gymnasts always manage to tug at the heartstrings of the rest of us—it probably has something to do with the fact that deep down we know they sacrificed every last second of their childhood for a chance at success. In 1996 those sacrifices paid off, and it went viral in the best way. It's 20 years later and we're still talking about how sassy Moceanu's floor routine was, or how much we looked up to Miller. That's not accidental. 

Most fans may not have realized it at the time, but there was actually a fairly heavy geopolitical factor that made the win even more impactful. Die-hard gymnastics followers will remember the iron-clad reign of the Soviet Union for decades in the sport—even those of us who weren't alive during that era can easily spit out facts about their winning every team Gold in every Olympics it had entered since the 1950's. The Soviets ran their gymnastics business like, well, a business. Or, more accurately, a factory. The U.S. was always one step behind, until 1996. 

But come the Atlanta games, the Union was no more and Russia was the team to beat. It was also the first time that the country was participating separately from the other former Soviet countries—to cut a whole bunch of political lessons short, stakes were very, very high. And we all know that high stakes make for great Olympic entertainment.

Magnificent Seven, Olympics, Amanda Borden, Dominique Dawes, Amy Chow, Jaycie Phelps, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Kerri Strug

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Geopolitics aside, the Magnificent Seven also needs to be heralded for its contributions to women's sports in general. Much like anything these days, there's a serious gender divide, with the Michael Jordans and the Andre Agassis and the Derek Jeters of the world constantly dominating the news cycle and garnering all kinds of adoration. Back in the '90s things were even more dire—this was the era of Space Jam, after all. But the '96 games changed it all, thanks in large part to a group of girls barely old enough to drive.

These gymnasts made it cool to like female athletes, and showed that girls could be just as tough, strong and all-around badass as guys. Atlanta was the first time that women were being marketed like their male counterparts, and kids everywhere now had someone to look up to that actually looked a little bit more like them. If you were a child of the '90s, there's very little chance that you weren't starstruck by the Magnificent Seven; we finally had posters to decorate our rooms with just like our brothers. It seems less than accidental that three years later, Mia Hamm would dominate at the World Cup. Girl Power, for certain.

And finally, no tribute would be complete without paying homage to that epic fairy tale ending. Yes, we speak of course of Kerri Strug's final vault landing on an injured ankle. To see the entire country collectively held their breaths would be an understatement. It's the kind of sports moment that not even the greatest screenwriter could make up—the last-ditch effort for gold, the image of her collapsing immediately after saluting the judges, the tears we all shed as coach Bela Karolyi carried her up to the podium to join her teammates.

It's what the Olympics are meant to be.

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