Stature is only one measure of maturity. This has been a year for Strug not only to grow up but also to catch up on popular culture, of which she is both an exemplar and a beneficiary. She doesn't know much about rock music. (In the gym she listened to what Karolyi liked: country.) In school this summer she is taking classes in jazz history and sharing an apartment with three roommates and three stuffed bears. The rest of her vast collection of teddy bears is home in Tucson, symbols of the childhood she is trying to leave behind.
When flustered by the mundane hassle of campus parking, she grumbles, "See, these are the little things I didn't have to deal with." Little things like eating dorm food and doing her own laundry are among the reasons her parents insisted that she honor her commitment to attend UCLA after the Olympics. This prevented her from joining her Atlanta teammates on the USA Gymnastics-sanctioned John Hancock tour, whose promoters, she says, were unwilling to allow her to participate only on weekends.
As Strug tells it, "My parents said, 'We love you and we're glad about everything, but you're still our kid. You need to go to college when it's appropriate.' "
She has found the time to write a children's book, Heart of Gold (part of the proceeds went to the Special Olympics), and an autobiography, Landing on My Feet, which is due out this fall (she got a $175,000 advance for that one). She has endorsed Danskins and Ace bandages. She also signed deals with the Ice Capades and with Magic Concert Promotions, the promoters of the magician David Copperfield, who were trying to put together a gymnastics show. The latter deal caused some tension between Strug and her former teammates.
She toured on weekends with former Olympians Bart Conner, Nadia Comaneci and Jair Lynch, the only U.S. male gymnast to win a medal in Atlanta. Strug's contract with the Magic tour started out paying her about $24,000 per appearance, in which she did an uneven parallel bars routine that ended with her flying into the arms of several bare-chested men. The women with whom she won the team gold medal—the Magnificent Seven, now minus one—toured 34 cities, and each received about $6,000 per performance.
The athlete who took one for the team quickly became the one who broke up the team. "I think that really hurt the way people perceive me," Strug says. "I knew in the long run I made the right decision. It was hard to be the only one not in the group."
The morning after they won the gold medal the U.S. women's gymnastics team went on the Today show, and later they appeared on the Wheaties box. But schisms in the group soon appeared. Strug had become the personification of a cherished American ideal, playing hurt. Her teammates had become afterthoughts. Strug says she wrote letters to everybody in the fall, just to say hello, and "they didn't write back. I was hurt."
Miller, one of her friends on the team, says, "The only thing that upset us was having the team overlooked. Without anyone of us wouldn't have happened."
"There were things we could have gotten as a team," says Jaycie Phelps, another team member. "Since we weren't together, we couldn't get them. I would have handled it differently. College will always be there. Gymnastics won't."
By last December the Magic tour was out of business, a victim of the country's satiable appetite for gymnastics. Strug filed suit in March for the remaining $850,000 on her $1.13 million contract. Magic Concert Promotions countersued, saying she had failed to disclose the full extent of her injury and was unable to perform properly. Although the litigation is still pending, she was released from the contract in May, paving the way for the Magnificent Seven to reunite this fall. They will not perform the vault.