Palin’s Kerri Strug Moment

In 1996, Kerri Strug earned her place in history when she helped the American gymnastics team secure Olympic gold with a heroic vault on a damaged ankle. In today’s Washington Post, we learned that Sarah “Barracuda” Palin had a similar moment in the spotlight:

No one gave the Warriors any chance to win a title when they drew East High, a large Anchorage school that had beaten them by 40 points earlier in the season, as their first-round opponent in the state tournament. Wasilla won, 50-48, but shortly before time expired, Palin came down wrong and sprained her ankle, an injury she would play through during the rest of the tournament.

In the championship game they met another large institution, Service High. Wasilla took a comfortable early lead, but Palin, playing on her heavily wrapped, swollen, blue ankle, couldn’t move well enough to defend, and Service began to catch up. Teeguarden motioned her to the bench. “I just had to get her out, it was painful to watch her,” he says. Palin was devastated as she took a seat, and the coach put an arm around her. “Without you we wouldn’t be here right now,” he said. “You’re not done.”

She remained on the bench until slightly less than a minute remained. Then Teeguarden turned and motioned her back into the game. Wasilla was nursing just a four-point lead, and Palin was one of his coolest heads. He wanted her on the floor.

With about 30 seconds left, Palin was fouled. She went to the free-throw line. If she missed, Service would get the ball with a chance to cut Wasilla’s lead to just two points. If she made the shot, her team would be up five — making it a three-possession game. She licked her fingertips, dribbled the ball a time or two, and knocked down the shot. “That iced it,” Teeguarden says. “At that point we exhaled.” Wasilla won, 58-53.

…Palin had scored nine points in three games, and her sprain had worsened into a stress fracture.

We already knew that Palin helped her team win, but did we also know about her “heavily wrapped, swollen, blue ankle”? It might be worth pointing out that making myth out of very poor decision making by coaches and young athletes is not the stuff of shining examples. But, in the meantime, go Warriors!

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.