U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame – HallreMarks

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HallreMarks [HallreMarks Archive]

The “HALLreMARKS” link will feature informal articles, thoughts, extended biographies, and works by individuals who have experienced much in the world of gymnastics. We trust you will enjoy the themes implicit in each presentation and you will find an idea or two to help guide your interest in our great sport. So, enjoy the writings and all to come.

 Muriel Grossfeld The Dolly Who Became an Olympian

Part III-Tokyo and Beyond

By Muriel’s Brother
Bruce A. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Miami Dade College
Director of Flip Flops & Fitness gymnastics school of Apollo Beach

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The 1960 Russian and Japanese gymnastics Olympic teams toured the United States in 1961. Muriel tied Larisa Latynina, the two-time Olympic all-around champion and soon to be, three time Olympic floor exercise champion in a dual meet with the Russians at Westchester State College.

Also in 1961, the US State Department sent a gymnastic contingent to the Middle East for a long goodwill tour.  Muriel and Abie Grossfeld, the celebrated Olympic couple, along with at least five other American athletes went to Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The equipment and exhibition conditions were often crude and difficult. Just about everyone got sick. Muriel became quite ill with what was diagnosed as a non-reoccurring form of malaria. However; Muriel, Abie, and the group had an audience with the young and handsome King Hussein of Jordan.

The married two-time Olympians discussed the possibilities of making a third Olympic Gymnastics team. Abie had just completed his Masters degree from the University of Illinois, and Muriel needed a knowledgeable coach. Along with several other Olympians and national champions, they began training at Southern Connecticut State College in New Haven at the invitation of President Hilton Buley and Coach Dick Zuber. Abie took a coaching job at the Coast Guard Academy in New London. Otto Graham, the legendary football quarterback, was Abie’s boss and the Athletic Director. Don Tonry took the coaching job at Yale University. Jamile Ashmore, Pan American Games gold medalist, was on a graduate assistantship at SCSC. Olympian Doris Fuchs Brause, national tumbling champion Barbara Galleher and Russell Mills National pommel horse champion rounded out the impressive group of gymnasts training at this new gymnastics Mecca.

The 1962 World Championships in Prague had been a success for Muriel. She finished 31st in the All-around leading the US team. Then, the Grossfelds, along with Tonry, Brause and Ashmore made and successfully competed in the1963 Pan American Games team in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The US dominated the competition but the judging was atrocious.

This was a pivotal time in the history of gymnastics in the United States. Several courageous men’s collegiate gymnastic coaches created the new United States Gymnastics Federation (USGF) in 1962 with the hope of usurping the authority of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) who continued to ignore the unimportant sport of gymnastics.  Gymnastics was directed by a dual USGF-AAU arrangement.

The 1964 Olympic Games were to be held in Tokyo, the first time the Olympic Games were to take place on Asian soil. The Japanese were going all out to conduct the best ever Olympic Games. Muriel and Abie decided to try to qualify for their third Olympic teams, respectively. The AAU Olympic trials were held in August at the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York. Muriel made the 1964 women’s gymnastics Olympic team by tying for second in the all-around; but, Abie did not make the men’s team. However, Abie did go to Tokyo as the men’s assistant coach.

The 1964 Olympic Games selection process personified the problem of the AAU being the ruling body for the sport of gymnastics. The AAU gymnastics chairman, George Gulack, selected the internationally inexperienced Mr. Vannie Edwards as the women’s 1964 Olympic team coach. He appointed his wife, Fay Gulack, who was incapable and unknowledgeable about gymnastics as the team manager. It was an arrangement destined for disaster! George Gulack was hoping to remove certain gymnasts that he personally did not like from the competition team. Fay and Vannie did his bidding and pressured Muriel and Doris on his directive. Team members Dale McClements and Marie Walther were solid gymnastic performers with experience. Seventeen year-old Linda Metheny was sensational (Muriel and Abie had both helped Linda and her coach Dick Mulvihill in Illinois in Linda’s early training) and would eventually become a three-time Olympian. Kathie Corrigan was the original team alternate because she had the lowest score of the seven in the final trials in Long Island. The sixteen year-old Janie Speaks was inexperienced at best and had tied Doris for fifth in the final trials. In pre-Olympic intra-squad competition  in Tokyo, Edwards and Gulack decided to remove Doris Fuchs Brause from the competition team in favor of the alternate Corrigan and Speaks; who by the way, was personally coached by Vannie Edwards. Doris was relegated to the position of team spotter.  This was because Olympic gymnastics competition rules at that time forbade the presence of a male coach on the competition floor. In Tokyo, Edwards was not permitted on the competition floor. Fay Gulack did not know how to spot or assist the women gymnasts. This left Doris, the two-time American Olympian to do the work of the coach. The Gulack action might have been considered palatable except that the supposedly washed up Doris Fuchs Brause went on to become the 1965 AAU National all-around Champion winning three of the four individual gymnastic events along the way. Then Doris made the 1966 World Championship team to Dortmund, Germany and performed an optional uneven parallel bar routine that included the back up-rise, clear hip mount on the high bar, and the front straddle somersault flip from low to high bar. The routine was considered ahead of its time. She even held on in competition to almost make the 1968 Olympic team to Mexico City. Janie Speaks had quit gymnastics in 1965 to become a high school cheerleader.

The men’s selection process was democratic compared to the women. However, an inadequate team unity training plan and John Muir, an inexperienced international gymnastics team coach, could not coordinate a talented men’s gymnastics team. Rusty Mitchell, the young USGF tumbling sensation, Californian Ron Barak, and the seventeen year old high school perfectionist, Makoto Sakamoto, made the 1964 Olympic team along with veterans Art Shurlock, Larry Banner and Gregor Weiss. Three-time Olympian Jack Beckner, two-time Olympian Abie Grossfeld, and Olympian Don Tony all fell short of making the team. The injured two-time Olympian Armando Vega held on as the team alternate. Unfortunately, Barak, the lawyer to be; and Mitchell, who produced the first double back on floor exercise in Olympic Games history retired from the sport after their first Olympiad. Only Sakamoto went on with a long dedicated career in gymnastics international competition.

In any case, the US men’s and women’s 1964 Olympic teams were under achievers at best finishing seventh and ninth team place, respectively. After the Tokyo Olympics, Muriel and Abie’s retirements from gymnastics competition were eminent. A fierce political battle challenging the AAU dictatorial leadership (Gulack and company) was ensuing. It was an opportunity to create better opportunities for American gymnasts. Muriel and Abie, along with Linda Metheny’s coach, Dick Mulvihill, Ron Barak, the new lawyer and many others; all put their gymnastics careers on the line to combat the AAU gymnastics leadership and some of their corrupt practices. The final result would be the installation of the USGF as the official US representative organization to the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) Congress in 1970.

Muriel’s lifetime competition record stands among the best of American women gymnasts! She won seventeen National AAU titles, made three Olympic teams, one World Championship team and one Pan American Game’s team. Her total of eight National AAU floor exercise titles was unbelievable.

What was ahead for Muriel and Abie now that their competition life was over? For Muriel it was judging, coaching and the promotion of physical fitness and gymnastics in the United States. For Abie, it was a prosperous collegiate and international coaching career at SCSC.  But, Muriel and Abie would pursue their achievements independently. The Grossfelds divorced in 1966!


(Next: Part IV-A Lifetime of Service)