Olympic Games and USA Involvement
Lee Bjella, 2015
Cool video on Gymnastics in the Olympics
In tracing the development of gymnastics in the world and the United States, a look at the events of the Modern Olympic Games provides some interesting insights. The 1896 renewal of the Olympic Games held in Athens had men's gymnastic events, which included parallel bars, high bar, vault, flying rings, team high bar, pommel horse, and rope climb. However, a gymnastics team was not sent from America. Indian clubs and tumbling would also be events for a while. Artistic gymnastics, which we recognize today, would come later through the refining process.
The 1900 Olympics in Paris were spread out over five months. This was the first year women were allowed to participate.(9)
The first listing of American men in Olympic Gymnastics was at the 1904 games held in St.Louis. There were a total of 13 nations represented, 689 athletes, 8 of whom were women, and there were 91 events.(9) Americans George Eyser, Glass, Heida and Henning "win first US Gold Medals at disputed 1904 Olympiad in St. Louis".(6) "Historians agree that the St Louis Games of 1904 almost killed off the Olympics. They were little more than a farcical sidelight of the giant international St. Louis Expo held the same year. Naturally enough, the Americans won most of the events, including all but one of the 23 track and field contests. The Games ended with a disgraceful couple of days of what was described as anthropological competition, pitting African pygmies, Sioux Indians and other colored races against each other."(7) But there were some highlights to the mess. This was the first year that the gold, silver and bronze medals were given. And America's gymnast George Eyser won 6 medals even though his left leg was made of wood. The event of dumbbells was included in this Olympics.(9)
No USA gymnastics team was sent to London for the 1908 Olympics, or the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden. The 1916 Games were cancelled because of WW1.
It wasn't until the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium, that America sent a team of gymnasts once again. This was considered by many to be the first real USA team. The team consisted of Bjorne Jorgensen, Frank Kriz, Paul Krempel, and John Mais. They were coached by Roy E. Moore (1875-1957) who is known as the Father of American Gymnastics. He was a five-time NAAU pommel horse champion. The "Moore" element on pommel horse is named for him.
The 1924 Team that traveled to Paris, again coached by Roy Moore, included the only American gymnast to be a four time Olympian - Alfred Jochim. Amazingly, Alfred was also the AAU National all around champion 7 times. (1925-1930 and again in 1933.) Frank Kriz won Gold in Vault, and was a three time Olympian. This looks to be our first Olympic medal in Olympic gymnastics. Mr. Moore coached the 1928 team, and was the Manager (which, according to Dr. Eric Hughes, was actually a coaching position!) at the 1932 Games and Chairman at the 1936, 1952, and 1956 Games.
The first year woman's gymnastics competition was held was at the 1928 Amsterdam, Holland Olympics, but no American team was sent, and this was the first year the Olympic flame was lit. Frank Haubold competes in his first of three Olympics.
The 1932 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. This year marked the start of the relatively short 15-18 day Olympic Games. The medal podium with flag raising, and the photo finish were started this year. Because of the economic conditions around the world, only five gymnastics teams made it to the US for the Games. The US Men's Gymnastics Team took the Silver Medal, with George Gulack getting gold on the still rings, and Dallas Bixler gold on the Horizontal Bar. (Also, Frank Haubold was 3rd on Pommel Horse; William Denton, 2nd still rings; Alfred Jochim, 2nd vault; Ed Carmichael 3rd on vault; and Edwin Gross, 2nd Tumbling.) The USA team won tumbling, rope climb, and the Indian Club events, which of course are not Olympic events any longer.
Frank Cumiskey competed in his first Olympics in 1932 - he would be a three time Olympian. He also competed in the 1936 and 1948 Games, and set the record for the longest span of Olympic competition for the US - spanning 16 years! (8) Frank was the AAU National all around champ five times - '34, '36, '45, '46, and '47. He later became an Olympic judge, and was the 1952 Men's Team Manager.
The first American women gymnasts competed in the Olympic Games of 1936, which were held in Berlin, Germany. Our team consisted of Jennie Caputo, Marie Kibler Phillips, Consetta Caruccio, Ada Lunardoni Cumiskey, Margaret Duff, Adelaide Meyer, Irma Haubold, and Mary Wright. The coach was George Miele with Dr. Margaret Brown as the Manager. There were no medals that year for either the men or women of the US. The dominant powers were Germany, Switzerland and Finland.
The men's team had the husbands of Adelaide Meyer, Ada Lunardoni Cumiskey, and Irma Haubold, and after the Games, Chester Phillips and Marie Kibler, from the men's and women's teams were married. Ada and Frank Cumiskey had three children, later divorced and married others. Ada died in 2003 at 91 years of age.
Another interesting note on the personalities of the 1936 Olympics concerns George Wheeler. He only competed in one Olympics, but he later won 25 National Championships from 1937 to 1941. He was the all around champion five years in a row; 1937-1941.
The 1936 Olympics saw the start of the torch relay and television broadcasting, and was the last year the Games were held outdoors.
No Olympics were held during WWII.
Only three years after the end of WWII, London did a remarkable job hosting the 1948 Olympics. The US Women's Team took 3rd place! It would be the last team medal for the US women until 1984. The women did not receive individual medals, but Helen Schifano was second on vault. Clara Schroth Lomady, also a member of the team, was the winner of 39 national championships in her career.(8)
The 1952 Games were held in Helsinki, Finland. Bob Stout competed the first full twisting back salto. Jack Beckner competed in his first of three Olympics. Heikki Salvolainen, from Finland, holds the record for being the oldest Olympic gymnastics medallist - he was 44 years old!
Melbourne, Australia was the host of the 1956 Olympics. Two gymnasts dominated the Games. Hungary's Agnes Keleti brought her career total to ten medals by winning four gold medals and two silver. Ukrainian Viktor Chukarin earned five medals, including three gold, to bring his career total to eleven medals, seven of them gold.(9)
The 1956 American Olympic Team roster holds some familiar names in women's gymnastics: Muriel Davis Grossfeld, (Abie Grossfeld was on the men's team) Jacquelyn Klein Fie, and Doris Fuchs Brause. Doris, at one time, trained under our own George Lewis in Seattle, and was also on the 1960 team and was an alternate on the 1964 team. Muriel also was on the 1960 and 1964 teams and coached the 1968 and 1972 teams.
The 1960 Olympics were held in Rome. Event Finals were introduced this year. Sharon Richardson performed the first full-twisting back layout on floor ex. Jack Beckner competed in his third Olympics. This was the first year that America held Olympic Trials to qualify gymnasts to the Olympics. Vera Caslavska, Czechoslovakia, won the all around.
Tokyo, Japan was the site of the 1964 Games. Dale McClements Flansaas Kephart, a Seattle, Washington gymnast, was on the women's team and did the best of any of the US women getting 34th all around. Dale went on to be the Manager for the 1972 team, and coached the team in 1976. Linda Metheny Mulvihill of Oregon was on the 1964, 1968 and 1972 teams. Linda later became an Brevet Judge and judged the Olympics. Vera Caslavska, Czechoslovakia, won the all around for the second year in a row.
Rusty Mitchell competed the first double back at the Olympics. Makato Sakamoto did fairly well for the US men, getting 20th in the all around. He was a five time National all around winner for AAU (1963,64,65,66, and 68) and also made the 1972 Olympic team.
Joyce Tanac Schroeder of Washington was on the 1968 Team. (Mexico City, Mexico.) Caroline Pingatore from Washington was an alternate. Caroline was inducted into the USAG Washington Hall of Fame in 2002, and Joyce Schroeder and Dale Kephart were inducted in 2003. Linda Metheny Mulvihill placed 4th on beam. Vera Caslavska was the darling of the Olympics winning four gold and two silver medals. Cathy Rigby McCoy was America's "pixie" who later became an actress and played Peter Pan on stage for years.
Fred Roethlisberger was on the men's team in 1968. His son John, under his coaching, would later be a three time Olympian and daughter Marie was an alternate on the 1984 team. Starting in 1972, Fred was the head coach of the University of Minnesota men's team for 32 years. He was inducted into the US Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1990. Steve Hug, 16 years old, became the youngest US male Olympian, and was also in the 1972 Olympics.
Mauno Nissinen, former UW standout, competed in the 1968 Olympics for his native Finland. Mauno was the first gymnast to perform a double back off the parallel bars in the Olympics.
Eric Hughes (founder of UW men's gymnastics program in 1950) was the Men's Team Manager (coach) for the 1972, Munich, Germany Olympics. Eric was inducted into the first class of USA Gymnastics Washington Hall of Fame in 2002. This was the year that the nine Israeli athletes were murdered.
The US women were 4th in 1972 with Cathy Rigby McCoy getting 10th all round. Olga Korbut revolutionized women's gymnastics at this Olympics. In 2001, living in the U.S. Olga was arrested for shoplifting. Nancy Thies Marshall, USA did a back salto on beam, the first person to do so, although Olga usually gets credit for doing it first.
Montreal, Canada was the site for 1976 Olympics. Nadia Comaneci received the first 10.0 in women's Olympic Gymnastics.
Peter Kormann of the 1976 Men's US team got the bronze medal on floor exercise. (The first US gymnastics men's medal in 44 years!) Kurt Thomas performed his flairs on the pommel horse and Bart Conner competed in his first Olympics. He was a three time Olympian, became a television sports commentator, and married Nadia Comaneci twenty years later. Dubi Lufi, Washington State University standout gymnast, competed for his home country, Israel.
The USA boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow. Elena Davydova performed the first Tkatchev. Aleksandr Dityatin earned medals in every men's gymnastics event to be the only man win eight medals in one Olympics.(9)
Karen Wisen of Washington state judged the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union. The men won first place as a team in 1984, and Bart Conner won gold on Parallel Bars. Tim Daggett won bronze on pommel horse and Mitch Gaylord won bronze on rings, silver on vault, and bronze on parallel bars. Mitch received a perfect 10.0 - the first received by a US male gymnast. Peter Vidmar won gold on pommel horse also with a 10.0 and the silver in the all around.
The US Women won second place as a team in 1984, with Mary Lou Retton Kelly taking first all around, 3rd on bars, 3rd on floor and 2nd on vault. Mary Lou was the only woman from outside Eastern Europe to get the AA gold since 1952. (10) Kathy Johnson was 3rd on beam. Julianne McNamara won gold on bars and was 4th all around. Our own Yumi Mordre was an alternate that year along with Marie Roethlisberger.
1988 had the women coming in 4th, in Seoul, Korea. The women's team had enough points to win 3rd but alternate Rhonda Faehn unknowingly remained on the podium at bars after removing a board for a teammates mount. .5 was deducted and the US ended up with 4th place. (Rhonda later became the University of Florida head coach and won NCAA Nationals in 2013 and tied with Oklahoma in 2014 and first in 2015.) Phoebe Mills was 3rd on beam. Bela and Marta Karolyi were 2 of the 6 USA women's coaches this year. The men placed 11th.
The 1992 Olympics were held in Barcelona, Spain. The Soviet Union was broken up, but they competed together under the name "The Unified team." The US women took the bronze team medal. Bela Karolyi was the coach. Shannon Miller was 2nd all around, and won a total of 5 medals. Dominique Dawes competed in the first of her three Olympics. Trent Dimas won gold on the high bar. Vitaly Scherbo, Unified Team, won 6 gold medals. John Roethlisberger competed in his first of three Olympics.
The USA women's team, the Magnificent Seven, won first place at the Atlanta, Georgia Olympic Games of 1996. Shannon Miller became the most decorated US female gymnast with 7 medals to her credit, with the 1996 team gold, and also her gold on beam. Amy Chow was 2nd on bars and Dominique Dawes got bronze on floor. Jair Lynch took 2nd on the parallel bars in this his second Olympics. This was the last year for the compulsories at the Olympics.
In Sydney, Australia in 2000, the women took 4th, and the men 5th. The US sent Jennifer Parilla to the Olympics for Women's Trampoline. The men's team had twins Morgan and Paul Hamm competing.
2004 Paul Hamm won the men's All Around and silver on horizontal bar. The team of Jason Gatson, Morgan Hamm, Paul Hamm, Brett McClure of Mill Creek, WA, Blaine Wilson, Guard Young won the silver medal. The women's team consisting of Mohini Bhardwaj (now in Oregon), Annia Hatch, Terin Humphrey, Courtney Kupets, Courtney McCool and Carly Patterson took silver. Carly took gold in the All-Around, silver on beam. Terin Humphrey took silver on bars, Annia Hatch took silver on vault and Courtney Kupets took bronze on bars.
2008 the men won the bronze which was unexpected since both Paul and Morgan Hamm had to pull out of the Olympics because of injuries. The women were expected to win gold, but because of injuries and some performance troubles, they took silver. In the All-Around competition, Nastia Liukin took gold and Shawn Johnson took silver; Beam: Shawn, gold, Nastia, silver; Floor: Shawn, silver, Nastia, bronze; Unevens: Nastia, silver - after tie breaker with a score that tied with the Chinese gymnast. Jonathan Horton took silver on High Bar.
2012 US Men 5th team, Danell Leyva - bronze AA. Women - Gold team: Gabby Douglas 1st AA; McKayla Maroney 2nd VT; Ali Raisman, 3rd BB and 1st FX.
In the 1900 Olympic Games there were a total of 19 women participants; by 2000 there were 4,069 women and 6,582 men.(9)
Note: 2003 A little local controversy has come up concerning Edwin Gross, who was the silver medallist in tumbling at the 1932 Olympics. The picture below, of his gravestone, (reprinted with permission from The Herald, Everett, WA. Photo by Justin Best, Herald photographer) shows him buried in the Edmonds, WA. Cemetery. California claims him as their gymnast. Eric Hughes (U of WA men's coach) thought he remembered calling Edwin up in Edmonds, WA. in the early years of the UW team, and asked him to come and judge the UW men. He doesn't remember if he came or not. Looking through The Roots of Gymnastics, Glenn Berry is noted as being Edwin's California coach. Glenn Berry was on the 1928 Olympic team.
(Edwins grave stone in Lynnwood, WA. Edwin T. Gross from 1932 Olympic Team picture.)
6. Frederick, A. Bruce, Ph.D. Roots of American Gymnastics. 1996. Roots Project, 1042 11th Ave., Wilmington, DE., 19808
7. http://abc.net.au/olympics_1996/game1904.htm 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games by Malcolm Andrews.
8. USAG online: 2000 Olympic Games: History of US Gymnasts. http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/events/2000/olympics/history-1896-36.html
10. USAG online: 2000 Olympic Games: History of US Gymnasts. http://www.usa-gymnastics.org/events/2000/olympics/history-usgymnasts.html