Strasbourg is a city whose name means “town (at the crossing) of roads.” For Marcia Frederick it must have symbolized the crossing of the first of many lines she envisioned crossing in her gymnastics career. With America’s first World Championship Gold Medal glistening from her neck, she had to be thinking about the next line to cross, Olympic Gold. She was ready in 1980 until President Jimmy Carter told American athletes they couldn’t compete in Moscow due to the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. She became one more amateur athlete denied the opportunity to pursue the ultimate goal due to political policies and dictates within which she had no active part.
Olympic Games: Team member, 1980. World Championships: Gold-UB, first American woman to win a world championship gold medal scoring a near-perfect 9.95, Strasbourg, France, (1978). Marcia had not established an international reputation; yet, even though she was first to perform in the UB finals, she won the world title beating Comaneci and the USSR’s Mukina who had just won the world AA title. At this major championship, Kurt Thomas also won gold in FX. The U.S. was on the move. USGF National Championships: Gold-UB, (1978, ’79, ’80). General: Marcia started gymnastics at an early age. In her words, “It started the day I walked into Pioneer (Gymnastic School) and told Leo Leger I wanted to be the best in the world.” By the late 70’s Marcia was making history at an age when her peers were making their first dates. She continues, “It never increased, it never decreased. It stayed the same. It was the exact same internal pressure at the Worlds as when I practiced routines at Pioneer. I never played with dolls. I never watched cartoons. I just wanted to be the best.” Her coach, Leo Leger stated that, “Marcia was like a sponge in the gym. Gymnastics was literally her life. You didn’t have to do much with Marcia. She was doing exactly what she wanted to do. She slept and ate gymnastics. If you told her to repeat a skill 10 times and walked away and came back, she’d still be doing it.” She was nine years old. At 12 years of age, Marcia decided to transfer to Milford, Connecticut to work with Muriel Grossfeld, 1981 HOF Honoree, who, at the time, was the U.S. Olympic Head Coach. Marcia’s workout style has been compared to the training regimen of Ray Hadley and Doris Fuchs hard, intense, almost angry. Under Muriel Grossfeld and Don Peter’s tutelage, Marcia progressed to her world title on the UB and made the 1980 Olympic Team. For all intents and purposes, Frederick’s gymnastics career that started at the age of nine ended at the age of 18 with the Moscow boycott. Prologue: Having completed her relatively short-lived competitive career, Marcia was nominated for the “Longines Perfect 10 Moments in Time” Award. Ms. Blanchette did a number of gymnastic related activities to earn a living including being a part of the Kurt Thomas Professional Tour in addition to other tours and shows, television commercials and the 1982 TV movie Nadia in which she did all the gymnastics of Comaneci’s character. Marcia’s story is not without pride. She was the best when she was on the floor facing the UB with determination and courage. She may have been the best in Moscow. She will never know nor will we, but as you read her story, I think it would have been wise to place a little wager that Marcia Frederick Blanchette would have crossed that last very prestigious line.
Sources: Photos and text courtesy of Jerry Wright author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005, , (public domain information only), and gratitude is extended to Abie Grossfeld, 1979 HOF Honoree, A. Bruce Frederick author of Who’s Who and Was Who in American Gymnastics, and Bruce Davis for their editing, suggestions, and contributions. Introduction, commentary, and formatting by Larry Banner, Web Manager.