Biography: LIENERT, Walter

LIENERT, Walter “Lefty”

Inducted: 1974
Born: Chicago, IL

At some time long past, many pebbles were dropped into pools of water. Each created ripples that may be thought of as generations within families.  We are part of a gymnastic family and have ripples that represent the generations of athletes, coaches, judges, and other contributors who have brought gymnastics to the world arena of today.  Walter “Lefty” Lienert is a major contributor in the concentric circles of gymnastic generations. Without his circle, numerous members of the gymnastic family would not have experienced the “thrill of victory” or the wonderful feeling of belonging inherent in the gymnastics family.

General: At the age of six, Walter Lienert was taken to the Lincoln Turners by his mother where he began to learn the basics of gymnastics.  He continued his gymnastics at Lane Tech High School and learned more gymnastics at the Normal College of the American Gymnastics Union (IU), but within three months of enrolling, he was drafted and served in the Navy, (1942-1945). He saw action against U-Boats in the Atlantic and ventured through the Panama Canal to Guam and China toward the end of WWII.  Walt returned to Normal College-IU for three years and then received his B.S. degree in physical education from Indiana U. that had assumed ownership of the Normal College.  He continued at the Normal College of Indiana U. teaching physical education and gymnastics. Walt was classified as a Turnverein coach for the evening classes. Eventually, he received permission to use the gymnasium during times when classes weren’t in session and developed a gymnastic exhibition team as coach of the Athenaeum Turners. A short time later, he organized an annual invitational competition at the school that lasted 14 years.  Throughout, he followed the philosophical traditions of the Turnverein of developing character through gymnastics or, if you prefer, attracting persons of character to gymnastics. He was Muriel Davis’, HOF Honoree-1981, first coach, and also coached Sandra Ruddick, Sharon Phelps, and Myra Perkins.  All four women competed in the National AAU Olympic Tryouts, (1956). Muriel won gold in FX (T) and placed 6th in AA at the tryouts thereby making the Melbourne team. Sandra earned Gold-AA and Gold-BB, UB, & V to become the 2nd of four Lienert coached girls to make the Melbourne team. Walt was selected as one of several women’s coaches and met with the woman’s team to help with the pre-competition training in Melbourne. Lienert had been Myra’s coach when she won the AAU Jr. Nationals, (1956) as well.  These tryouts were reputably the first major competitions for Muriel and the other girls. A number of his trainees continued gymnastics enrolling at the gymnastic powerhouses of the time, Penn State, U. of Illinois, Florida State U. et al. After his experiences in Melbourne, Walt saw a need for a basic book on UB skills, so he wrote the first book about basic skills on the UB, The Modern Girl Gymnast on the Uneven Parallel Bars (See Insert). His wife, Mary, did all the artwork.Lienert’s enthusiasm and persistence were responsible for developing with Otto Ryser and Claire Jennett the sport of gymnastic competitions at the high school level in Indiana. This change included a culminating State Championship. Gymnasts from about 22 high schools participated in the first state championships and other schools quickly developed teams and joined the gymnastic parade to become the State Champion.  Witnessing the amazing success of the state gymnastic competitions, the Indiana State Department of Athletics assumed responsibility for the program throughout the state.  Over many years scholarships were successfully funded, and numerous young men and women benefited and progressed to perform at national and, like Terry Spencer and Muriel Davis, international levels. At over 80 years young, Lienert continues to participate by having a gym facility and classrooms on his 26-acre farm in Marion County, Indiana. The gymnastics camp is currently hosted by the Normal College, IU.  Pictured above along with Walt is a Narragansett Equipment Co. buck. It has metal pommels and is very heavy.  It has retractable wheels to roll it, but it took an entire team of gymnasts or horses to get it from place to place. By the time Walt’s concentric circle of progress reached the 50’s generation, the original “buck” or “Vaulting Buck” (See Photo Insert) occasionally equipped with pommels but more frequently without them became a side horse and later became known as a pommel horse (PH) with leather covered pommels. New generations of gymnasts began to improve performances. The “Moore” move on the PH was already popular, the 1960 Finnish Olympic PH Champion was working behind his back, and the generation of the great Kurt Thomas was introduced to the “Flair.” Now the latest innovation in men’s gymnastics seems to be a full-twisting layout and re-grasp on the HB. Walt Lienert was a gigantic influence in the development of gymnastics competitions in the U.S. Those who follow in the footsteps of his generation should remember him as one of the persons who created the footsteps just as he remembers following in the footsteps of those who preceded him. Family: m. Mary Smyrnis b. Indianapolis, IN. Children: Two sons, Kurt & Kris. Grandchildren: One boy and one girl.

Source: Interviews with “Lefty” Lienert, contributions courtesy of A. Bruce Frederick author of Who’s Who and Was Who in American Gymnastics, Jerry Wright author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005, and photos courtesy of A. Bruce Frederick and Bruce Davis. Introduction, commentary, and formatting by Larry Banner, Web Manager.