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 Olympia
Part V- World Championship Gold and the Olympic Boycott
By Muriel’s Brother
Bruce A. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Miami Dade College
Director of Flip Flops & Fitness Gymnastics School of Apollo Beach
The United States Gymnastics Federation women’s program was flying high after the Munich Olympics. Cathy Rigby, Kim Chace, Roxanne Pierce, and Joan Moore were awarded FIG stick pins for scoring over seventy-two points in the all-around and the women’s team finished 4th. Muriel Grossfeld did a wonderful job of coaching the team. Competition expectations were set high in American gymnastics circles for the 1974 World Championships (WC) to be held in Varna, Bulgaria.
The early seventies was the beginning of the Big Tour era in the US. The popular Olga Korbut and the Russian Olympic gymnastics team came to America. It raised a good deal of money for the young United States Gymnastics Federation that had replaced the Amateur Athletic Union as the ruling body for the sport of artistic gymnastics. The Japanese, Hungarian, and Romanian team tours closely followed the Russian tour. Muriel was selected USGF national coach for women from 1972-1976. She helped develop the USGF age group and elite programs. The new USGF Junior Olympic program was launched with her gymnasts, Jill Heggie and Sharon Livieri, winning their respective age groups.
Muriel was selected to coach the women’s team to Varna while Rusty Mitchell, 1964 Olympian, was selected to coach the men’s team. The scoring at the WC was quite low for the American women’s team. Maybe the Eastern bloc countries now considered the US a threat? Ann Carr received a low 9.4 score for a beautiful Tsukahara vault. Joan Moore finished an American high of eighteenth in the all-around. The individual event finals were totally dominated with gymnasts from Eastern bloc countries. The US women slipped to a team seventh place matching the American men’s seventh place finish. The top five women’s teams were from the Eastern bloc: USSR, East Germany, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia. Muriel did a good job rebuilding Janette Anderson, the U.S.’s number one gymnast, in her New Haven facility. Barbie Myslak, the team alternate, was also personally coached by Muriel.
The US must have taken out their WC frustrations a year later during the 1975 Pan American Games in Mexico City. The American women totally dominated the competition and the US men defeated a veteran Cuban team. Most importantly the names Kurt Thomas, Bart Conner and Peter Kormann surfaced for the first time in an important international meet.
Muriel and other US coaches and judges were pursuing plans for US gymnasts training and competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Several top American gymnasts; Ann Carr, Denise Cheshire and Diane Dunbar were injured for the final trials. The young Kathy Johnson had not been schooled properly in the compulsory exercises. Disappointedly, the US women finished sixth and the men placed seventh in Montreal.
There were, however, two important stories in Montreal. One was significant for American gymnastics. Peter Kormann, who made the Olympic team as the alternate and was personally coached by Abie Grossfeld, was placed in the competition lineup by the coaching staff. Peter did not disappoint! Kormann made floor exercise finals and won a bronze medal. This was the U.S.’s first individual Olympic medal in gymnastics since the 1932 Olympic Games. The US women had won a bronze team in 1948.
The second story enthralled the entire world. Nadia Comaneci of Romania burst on the scene scoring the first ten (10.0) in Olympic history on the uneven parallel bars. She followed with six more tens, winning the all-around and defeating Ludmilla Tourischeva, the 1972 Olympic champion.
Meanwhile in the U.S., Muriel opened a new gym and a live-in dormitory in Milford, Connecticut and employed a new coaching system. The elite gymnasts at Muriel’s were being coached one on one by their private coaches. This was a financially expensive endeavor; but, a system, which Muriel knew, was needed to be able to compete with Eastern Bloc gymnastic programs.
After Montreal, gymnasts were training for the 1978 WC to be held in Strasbourg, France. The U.S. men’s and women’s team members had significantly high scores in their final trials for the WC. It was believed that the US could finally achieve some medals if the gymnasts could match their scores from final trials. When the WC team competition was complete, the US women placed fifth and the U.S. men were even better, finishing in fourth place.
The US also had three gymnasts in the individual event finals. Marcia Frederick, a product of Muriel’s new training program, won the first U.S. WC gold medal on the uneven parallel bars. Floridian Kurt Thomas followed up with gold on the floor exercise event. Floridian Kathy Johnson added a bronze on the floor exercise event. I was thrilled having personally coached Kurt as an AAU Junior Olympian and because Kathy Johnson was a product of Florida and Region 8.
In 1978, the Federation of International Gymnastics voted to conduct a WC every other year between the Olympic Games. Yes, there would be a WC in 1979 and it would be held on U.S. soil for the first time. The site was Tarrant Arena in Fort Worth, Texas! Could American gymnastics continue to rise?
Marcia Frederick and Leslie Russo, another product of Muriel’s new coaching system, made the WC team. Unfortunately, Leslie had to withdraw during the meet due to injury.
Like Montreal there were two big stories in Ft. Worth. Kurt Thomas won six medals for the US along with Bart Conner’s gold on parallel bars and the US men earned a bronze team medal. The second was that the Romanian women beat the USSR women while Nadia Comaneci nursed an infected hand injury and only performed a balance beam routine in the team finals.
The US had hosted a wonderful WC in Fort Worth. The US men were flying high with new young stars in Kurt Thomas, Bart Conner, Jim Hartung and Peter Vidmar. This team won the first team medal for the U.S. in the WC. The US women were still optimistic. All thoughts were on training for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
The USSR invaded Afghanistan in January of 1980. President Jimmy Carter called for a boycott of the Olympic Games. The U.S. Olympic Committee voted by a large majority to not attend the Olympics. Thirty-six other nations also boycotted the games. Some countries did not march in the opening ceremonies or marched behind the Olympic flag rather than the flag of their country.
There were other ramifications within the sport of gymnastics. Kurt Thomas retired from competition and embarked on a professional career and show. Gymnastics programs all over the U.S. suffered the experience of not having an Olympic Games to showcase their sport. Muriel Grossfeld closed her gymnastics school in Milford!
Would this be it for Muriel or would she find another way to help gymnastics develop medal-winning gymnasts in the US.
NEXT: (Part VI) Muriel Grossfeld-Network television Commentator and the U.S. National Coaching Staff