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

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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.

 

Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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