Biography: JOHNKE, Bruno

JOHNKE, Bruno

Inducted: 1970 Born: Berlin, Germany


Bruno Johnke is, in retrospect, the Von Braun of gymnastics.  In the same way that the Mercury & Gemini space programs would not have been successful with such rapidity without Von Braun, American gymnastics would not have known what was being written at the international level about the gymnastics of the day. I trust readers will pardon the comparison using the space programs, but I was an integral part of both programs up to the beginning of the Apollo flights and the development of the F-1 engine pod. Bruno excelled in numerous sports, but he eventually took up gymnastics as his favorite. His induction into the USGHOF comes primarily from his service to American gymnastics by translating the first Gymnastics Code of Points that became the bedrock on which U.S. gymnasts began to rely.  In addition, his extremely wide range of experiences with gymnastics around the world allowed insights into what needed to be accomplished to win in the international arena. He coached and competed in the Olympics with the Egyptian gymnastics team, coached the Cuban gymnastic team to a gold medal at the first Central American Games that became the Pan American Games, and competed as a member of the German team.

In 1916, at age ten, Bruno Johnke joined a Turner Society in Berlin, Germany. Within a few months he won some prizes in competition and became a squad leader (Vorturner). He made rapid progress and quickly changed from the boy’s division to the youth division. During his four years in the youth division he won many prizes in gymnastics, track and field, swimming, diving, and skiing. In 1924, he joined the men’s division and competed in gymnastics in local, district, and national meets, placing high and winning some championships. After graduation from the Deutsche Turnschule, he became director of the “Tumgemeinde in Berlin (1931-1935), a society of 3,000 gymnasts. His main task was the training of leaders for the divisions and squads. Competitor/Coaching: Bruno competed in major gymnastics meets and traveled extensively in Germany as a member of the Berlin Gymnastics Team. The team traveled on an extended tour through Poland and competed in the Swiss National Gymnastics Festivals, (1932 & 1936). He continued to be a high scoring gymnast with the Berlin team. During a leave of absence from the German National Team in 1933, the German Gymnastics Federation sent Johnke to Poland where he worked as a traveling instructor in many different cities with leaders at all levels of gymnastics. Bruno coached the Navy Gymnastics Team at NAS in Pensacola, FL from 1958 until his retirement. World Gymnastics Championships: German Team member, Budapest, Hungary, (1934). He went to Cairo, Egypt in 1936 to coach the Egyptian Olympic Gymnastics Team. He conducted training courses in Cairo and established gymnastic centers in Upper and Lower Egypt. To gain further experience, he organized a European tour and took the Egyptian gymnasts to France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy and was a physical training instructor of the Prince of Wales School, Kenya Colony, Africa. It was in Africa that Johnke’s plan to leave Germany was formulated. Johnke’s wife relates that “ . . . shortly after the Berlin Olympics, (1936), Johnke decided to escape from Nazi Germany, but as a member of the German team, he was carefully watched and not allowed to leave. He contrived an artifice that worked. Once in Africa, he managed to emigrate to the U.S. via Kenya, arriving in the U.S. in 1949.”  He became a U.S. citizen in 1958. From 1928 to 1938, Johnke participated in ten International Olympic events as a competitor, coach, or official.  During an orientation period in New York City, he met Mr. Roy E. Moore and translated French and German correspondence from the FIG for Moore. One of Johnke’s translations was the first edition of the Code of Points that subsequently was published in the AAU Gymnastics Rules Book. For six weeks, he helped teach gymnastics at NYU where Edward Scrobe, 1980 USGHOF Inductee, was one of his students. He also worked as an Aquatic Director and was assisting with gymnastics in the YMCA in Jamestown, N.Y. when Mr. Moore advised him to go to Cuba and coach the Cuban Olympic team for the Central American Games (CAG) in Guatemala in 1950. The Cuban team won the Gold Medal with Johnke as their Head Coach. A year later, Johnke again coached the same Cuban team for the first Pan American Games, the former CAG, in Buenos Aires. In the absence of Mr. Moore who was Chairperson of the American governing body for gymnastics, the AAU, Johnke, on Moore’s authority, was appointed to be a member of the National Gymnastics Committee and represented U.S. gymnastics in the charter meeting and subsequent meetings of the Pan American Gymnastics Committee.  His wife indicated that Bruno felt privileged to serve under Moore and his successor at the U.S. National Championships, (1950-’60).  As of this writing (5/2007), Bruno is 101 years of age, afflicted with severe Alzheimer’s disease and is being cared for by his wife in a special facility. He married his wife of 70 years in Cairo, Egypt. She continues to be healthy, lucid, and energetic at age 97.  Family: (m) Eleanor Fuchs who met Bruno in Germany where they both grew up. Children: Peter, who works in disability services in Vermont USA and Eleanor Cardinal who was a gymnastics teacher. The entire Johnke family has competed, performed, or coached gymnastics.

Sources: Interviews with Eleanor Johnke by Rudolf Hradecky III plus general information contained in the 1947 AAU Handbook researched by Jerry Wright, author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005. Introduction, commentary, and formatting by Dr. Larry Banner, Web Manager.