Kurt Thomas, U.S. gymnastics’ first world champion, dies at 64

Kurt Thomas
Getty Images
1 Comment

Kurt Thomas, the U.S.’ first world champion in gymnastics and an Olympian, died Friday at age 64 after previously suffering a stroke, his family said.

Thomas had a stroke May 24, caused by a tear of the basilar artery in the brain stem.

“I lost my universe, my best friend and my soulmate of 24 years,” his wife, Beckie, said, according to International Gymnast. “Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife.”

Thomas, after competing at the 1976 Olympics, became the first American to win a gold medal at the world championships, taking the floor exercise title in 1978. Thomas had flu-like symptoms and was so dizzy that he considered withdrawing.

Thomas said he was told there was a delay before the medal ceremony because organizers in Strasbourg, France, did not have the “Star-Spangled Banner” handy, given the U.S.’ lack of success in the sport.

“I was singing the national anthem, and at the end of it I closed my eyes, and I dropped my head and I remembered that moment, and I can still remember that moment to this day,” Thomas said in his 2003 International Gymnastics Hall of Fame induction speech. “Jim McKay said something at the end. He goes, ‘And now the question is asked, is all the work and all the deprivation worth it? The answer is yes in this moment.’ And that is one of the greatest moments of my life.”

He earned another six medals at the 1979 World Championships, a U.S. record for medals at a single worlds that Simone Biles tied in 2018. The haul included floor exercise and high bar titles, plus a silver medal in the all-around in Fort Worth, Texas.

Thomas also won U.S. all-around titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978 before graduating from Indiana State in 1979.

“He is taking a sport and grafting on new elements to make it an art,” the New York Times reported in 1979. “He is men’s gymnastics’ Baryshnikov.”

After the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, he retired.

“People talk to me all the time, ‘Aren’t you really still bitter about that Olympic thing? You could have been Olympic gold medalist,'” Thomas said in 2003. “I say, ‘Yeah, but you know, I went to the world championships and I won. I went to the Olympics, and I’m an Olympian.”

Thomas came back for a 1992 Olympic bid, becoming the oldest gymnast in history to make the U.S. national team at age 36, but was not chosen for the Barcelona Games. His work in retirement included coaching.

Thomas, who reportedly appeared on The Johnny Carson Show five times, continues to be referred to often during gymnastics broadcasts, given he invented a popular pommel horse skill – the Thomas flair. He also debuted the Thomas salto on floor.

“When [Olympic teammate] Bart [Conner] mentions on TV [commentary], there’s the Thomas flair or there’s the Thomas on floor, those little things are what make my life now,” Thomas said in 2003. “These kinds of things are tremendous.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


2023 French Open men’s singles draw

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz
1 Comment

The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They meet in Friday’s semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

IOC board recommends withdrawing International Boxing Association’s recognition

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Boxing

The IOC finally ran out of patience with the International Boxing Federation on Wednesday and set a date to terminate its Olympic status this month.

While boxing will still be on the program at the 2024 Paris Games, the International Olympic Committee said its executive board has asked the full membership to withdraw its recognition of the IBA at a special meeting on June 22.

IOC members rarely vote against recommendations from their 15-member board and the IBA’s ouster is likely a formality.

The IOC had already suspended the IBA’s recognition in 2019 over long-standing financial, sports integrity and governance issues. The Olympic body oversaw the boxing competitions itself at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 and will do so again for Paris.

An IOC statement said the boxing body “has failed to fulfil the conditions set by the IOC … for lifting the suspension of the IBA’s recognition.”

The IBA criticized what it called a “truly abhorrent and purely political” decision by the IOC and warned of “retaliatory measures.”

“Now, we are left with no chance but to demand a fair assessment from a competent court,” the boxing body’s Russian president Umar Kremlev said in a statement.

The IOC-IBA standoff has also put boxing’s place at the 2028 Los Angeles Games at risk, though that should now be resolved.

The IOC previously stressed it has no problem with the sport or its athletes — just the IBA and its current president Kremlev, plus financial dependence on Russian state energy firm Gazprom.

In a 24-page report on IBA issues published Wednesday, the IOC concluded “the accumulation of all of these points, and the constant lack of drastic evolution throughout the many years, creates a situation of no-return.”

Olympic boxing’s reputation has been in question for decades. Tensions heightened after boxing officials worldwide ousted long-time IOC member C.K. Wu as their president in 2017 when the organization was known by its French acronym AIBA.

“From a disreputable organization named AIBA governed by someone from the IOC’s upper echelon, we committed to and executed a change in the toxic and corrupt culture that was allowed to fester under the IOC for far too long,” Kremlev said Wednesday in a statement.

National federations then defied IOC warnings in 2018 by electing as their president Gafur Rakhimov, a businessman from Uzbekistan with alleged ties to organized crime and heroin trafficking.

Kremlev’s election to replace Rakhimov in 2020 followed another round of IOC warnings that went unheeded.

Amid the IBA turmoil, a rival organization called World Boxing has attracted initial support from officials in the United States, Switzerland and Britain.

The IBA can still continue to organize its own events and held the men’s world championships last month in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!