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Archive for February 6, 2021

Feb. 6, 2012 — Dianne Durham, 1968-2021

Before there was a Simone Biles, a Dominique Dawes, a Nia Dennis, or a Gabby Douglas, there was Dianne Durham.

Dianne Durham, who died this past week, was a trailblazer in what had been the virtual all-white sport of gymnastics. Durham had been one of the American gymnasts in the U.S. women’s team pool heading into the 1984 Olympic Trials before underrotating on her specialty event, the vault, damaging her ankle and rendering her off the mat for the critical weeks needed in order to qualify for the Olympic team in Los Angeles.

Mary Lou Retton took the top spot out of the Trials, and the rest was Olympic history. The unfortunate thing is that Summer Olympics fans were denied a chance to see both Durham and Retton on the same team. Imagine how the two of them would have fared against the boycott-weakened women’s gymnastics competition in Los Angeles.

But one should not discount Durham’s contribution to the sport. Upon her retirement, she served as a judge for competitions, and eventually started a gymnastics center in Chicago that operated for 17 years, and trained dozens of athletes for the next level. She remained to the end a role model for young gymnasts of color, including Douglas and Biles.

It is notable that Durham and Retton were the first two athletes identified by Bela and Martha Karolyi back in the early 1980s, and they developed a culture of success that would continue until the Karolyi Ranch was closed in the midst of the Larry Nassar scandal.

Part of me wonders what may have happened had Durham’s gym, Skyline, had not closed when the Nassar trial occurred in 2017.

Still, Durham’s tremendous strength and tumbling were unforgettable if you were witness to it. You may want to check YouTube for them. You’ll be amazed.