(Featured Photo: Dianne Durham in 2012; photo credit – Northwest Indiana Times)
When it comes to Black gymnasts, most casual gymnastics fans know the names Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas. Some may recognize the name Dominique Dawes, possibly even Betty Okino and Jair Lynch as well.
But even a good number of hard-core gymnastics fans may not know the ones that paved the way for the gymnasts named above and all the other Black U.S. gymnasts thru the years. Gymnasts like Ron Galimore, Luci Collins, Charles Lakes, Dianne Durham, and Wendy Hilliard.
The first Black man to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team was Ron Galimore in 1980. Unfortunately he, like the rest of the 1980 U.S. Olympians, were unable to compete because of the government boycott of the Moscow Games. An especially bitter pill for Ron who was considered a medal threat on vault.
Ron found a high level of success nationally over the duration of his career winning 4 vault event national titles and 3 floor event national titles. He also has the distinction of scoring the first 10.0 in NCAA gymnastics history on vault during NCAA Nationals competition while attending LSU (he later completed college at Iowa State).
Today, Ron is still very involved with gymnastics as the chief operating officer of USA Gymnastics. He was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2016. Fun fact: Ron is the son of FAMU football legend Willie Galimore (Willie also played in the NFL for 7 seasons).
The first Black woman to make an Olympic team was Luci Collins. Unfortunately, she too suffered the same fate as Ron. Her Olympic moment would never come to pass as a consequence of the 1980 Olympic boycott. Luci intended to stick around and attempt to make the Olympics in 1984, but that desire was dashed by injury in 1982.
An interesting aside is Luci, who is Creole, fought colorism for her place in history. When it came to press recognition for potentially being the first Black U.S. Olympian, “there was a lot of attention on Ron but not a mention of me as African-American,” she later recounted. “I was devastated by the non-coverage because of the way it affected the little community (Inglewood, California) that strongly supported me…There was a large amount of disappointment over that in my local community, and it was hurtful. I definitely identified as African-American, but there were times I felt I wasn’t a good enough representation.”
Continue reading “The First Black U.S. Elite Gymnasts”