Kurt Thomas, the U.S.’ first world champion in gymnastics and an Olympian, died Friday at age 64 after previously suffering a stroke, his family said.

Thomas had a stroke May 24, caused by a tear of the basilar artery in the brain stem.

“I lost my universe, my best friend and my soulmate of 24 years,” his wife, Beckie, said, according to International Gymnast. “Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife.”

Thomas, after competing at the 1976 Olympics, became the first American to win a gold medal at the world championships, taking the floor exercise title in 1978. Thomas had flu-like symptoms and was so dizzy that he considered withdrawing.

Thomas said he was told there was a delay before the medal ceremony because organizers in Strasbourg, France, did not have the “Star-Spangled Banner” handy, given the U.S.’ lack of success in the sport.

“I was singing the national anthem, and at the end of it I closed my eyes, and I dropped my head and I remembered that moment, and I can still remember that moment to this day,” Thomas said in his 2003 International Gymnastics Hall of Fame induction speech. “Jim McKay said something at the end. He goes, ‘And now the question is asked, is all the work and all the deprivation worth it? The answer is yes in this moment.’ And that is one of the greatest moments of my life.”

He earned another six medals at the 1979 World Championships, a U.S. record for medals at a single worlds that Simone Biles tied in 2018. The haul included floor exercise and high bar titles, plus a silver medal in the all-around in Fort Worth, Texas.

Thomas also won U.S. all-around titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978 before graduating from Indiana State in 1979.

“He is taking a sport and grafting on new elements to make it an art,” the New York Times reported in 1979. “He is men’s gymnastics’ Baryshnikov.”

After the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, he retired.

“People talk to me all the time, ‘Aren’t you really still bitter about that Olympic thing? You could have been Olympic gold medalist,’” Thomas said in 2003. “I say, ‘Yeah, but you know, I went to the world championships and I won. I went to the Olympics, and I’m an Olympian.”

Thomas came back for a 1992 Olympic bid, becoming the oldest gymnast in history to make the U.S. national team at age 36, but was not chosen for the Barcelona Games. His work in retirement included coaching.

Thomas, who reportedly appeared on The Johnny Carson Show five times, continues to be referred to often during gymnastics broadcasts, given he invented a popular pommel horse skill – the Thomas flair. He also debuted the Thomas salto on floor.

“When [Olympic teammate] Bart [Conner] mentions on TV [commentary], there’s the Thomas flair or there’s the Thomas on floor, those little things are what make my life now,” Thomas said in 2003. “These kinds of things are tremendous.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kurt Thomas was a fierce rival, who went on to become a cherished friend. Proud to have been your teammate! Sending hugs to his wife Beckie, his children, Hunter, Kassidy and Kurt as well as the entire gymnastics community, who lost a true pioneer today. RIP @3XGold pic.twitter.com/xKAYknen94

— Bart Conner (@bartconner) June 7, 2020

I can’t even wrap my head around this. Kurt was amazing and the hero and idol to so many. RIP Kurt. https://t.co/Mm425oG1Bk

— tim daggett (@timdaggettnbc) June 7, 2020

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Team news and predicted line-ups ahead of West Ham vs Burnley

West Ham United welcome Burnley to the London Stadium in the Premier League this evening. David Moyes’s side revived their hopes of survival with a shock win against Chelsea last week, but twice let a lead slip against Newcastle when…

MMA fighter named among 9 arrested after SHOOTOUT with KALASHNIKOV rifles in Moscow (VIDEO)

A hail of gunfire shattered the quiet air of a sleepy Moscow suburb when armed men spilled out of cars and opened fire with pistols and semi-automatic weapons near the ‘Yasnyy’ housing complex in the south of the Russian capital. Horrified…

Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021

Atlanta Motor Speedway will host two Cup races in 2021, marking the first time since 2010 that the 1.5-mile speedway will have multiple Cup events in the same season. Atlanta will host Cup races on March 21 and July 11.…

Joshua Cheptegei breaks 5000m world record in Monaco

Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei broke a 16-year-old world record in the 5000m by nearly two seconds, clocking 12:35.36 in Monaco on Friday. Cheptegei, the 2019 World 10,000m champion who reportedly needed 80 hours to travel from Uganda for the Diamond League meet, took…