Dianne Durham, Barrier-Breaking Gymnast, Dies at 52

Dianne Durham, Barrier-Breaking Gymnast, Dies at 52

Dianne Durham, the primary Black girl to win the united statesA. Gymnastics nationwide championship, who was later denied a shot on the Olympics by an ill-timed harm, died on Feb. 4 in Chicago. She was 52.

Her sister, Alice Durham Woods, confirmed the loss of life, at Swedish Hospital on the North Facet, attributing it to an unspecified “transient sickness.”

After profitable the junior nationwide champion in 1981 and 1982, Durham was thought of among the many finest feminine vaulters on this planet when she entered the 1983 senior championship.

She was identified for rocketing her tiny body — 4-foot-7 and 100 kilos at 15 years outdated — excessive into the air off a vaulting horse. Commentators additionally extolled her grace, as showcased by her balletic flooring train within the 1983 championship.

On the uneven bars throughout that competitors, she knocked her left foot towards a bar, prompting a CBS Sports activities reporter to ask her whether or not the harm would hamper her within the occasions to return. “I’ll be having an excessive amount of enjoyable,” she answered.

As she went on to flip and spin her solution to a dominant victory, a sportscaster introduced, “It’s Dianne Durham day.”

Durham grew to become the top-ranked feminine gymnast within the nation and a front-runner for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer time Olympics. Ebony journal ran a glowing profile of her a number of months after her win, noting that she had “an opportunity at not solely turning into the primary Black girl to make the Olympics gymnastic staff, however the first Black to win a gold medal within the sport that has been dominated by Whites because it grew to become an Olympic sport in 1896.”

“Comaneci is historical past,” the journal stated concerning the Romanian Nadia Comaneci, then the game’s most well-known athlete and a former pupil of Durham’s coach, Bela Karolyi. “It’s Dianne Durham’s flip for the highlight.”

That dream crashed when, after a sequence of different accidents, Durham landed awkwardly throughout her vault within the 1984 Olympic trials and severely sprained an ankle. She nonetheless managed a rating of 9.1 within the occasion, ok to maintain her within the operating for the Olympics, however she was struggling to stroll and withdrew from the remainder of the competitors.

The Washington Submit calculated that she was .24 factors shy of the ultimate spot on the Olympic staff. Durham stated later that if the stakes had been clear to her, she wouldn’t have withdrawn from the trials and as an alternative pushed via the ache. She added that the choice committee’s choice to not embrace her was by no means totally defined to her.

“It is a fairly massive injustice to not have Durham on the Olympic staff,” Karolyi informed The Submit. “The staff wants her, the nation wants her.”

A coaching companion of Durham’s, Mary Lou Retton, went on that yr to turn into the primary American to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics and a “folks heroine,” as The Occasions wrote in 1984.

However a profile of Durham on the ESPN web site final yr confirmed that many in gymnastics thought she had made her personal lasting mark on the game by proving that younger Black girls might attain its pinnacle.

“The younger Black gymnasts might look as much as her,” Luci Collins, a Black gymnast a era older, informed ESPN. “They might see her and relate.”

The lineage of feminine African-American gymnasts extending from Durham contains Betty Okino and Dominique Dawes, the primary Black girls to win Olympic gymnastic medals, in 1992; Gabby Douglas, the primary Black Olympic champion within the all-around occasion; and the game’s present star, Simone Biles.

In a speech she gave whereas being inducted right into a U.S. gymnastics regional corridor of fame in 2017, Durham stated her 1983 victory had “showcased to your entire nation that just a little Black lady from Gary, Indiana, may very well be the perfect gymnast within the nation.”

Dianne Patrice Durham was born in Gary on June 17, 1968. Her father, Ural, labored at Midwest Metal in labor relations, and her mom, Calvinita (Carter) Durham, taught elementary faculty.

Dianne took up gymnastics at age 3 and earlier than lengthy began profitable competitions. After claiming the 1981 junior championship at 13, she moved to Houston to coach with Karolyi. Her mom quickly give up her job and moved there as effectively.

Durham retired from competitors quickly after the 1984 Olympic trials. Within the early Nineties she was the assistant girls’s gymnastics coach on the College of Illinois at Chicago. She discovered work doing choreographed gymnastic and dance routines and appeared within the closing ceremony of the 1992 Summer time Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. She additionally carried out at a theme park in Osaka, Japan.

From 1996 to 2013, Durham ran her personal gymnasium, Skyline Gymnastics, on Chicago’s North Facet. Some gymnasts she had skilled received state and regional competitions. She additionally served as a choose at gymnastics occasions, together with the nationwide championship.

She married Tom Drahozal, a faculty administrator and a women’ basketball coach, in 1994. Along with her sister, her husband and father survive her.

Reflecting on her 1983 championship victory in her corridor of fame speech, Durham gave a lot credit score to her household and mates. Family had chipped in to assist pay for her coaching in Houston as a younger teenager. For the competitors in Chicago, buses drove in from Gary carrying a whole lot of supporters, members of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, the place a great-grandfather of Durham’s was one of many earliest deacons within the Nineteen Twenties.

On the meet, they held up a banner that learn “We Love Dianne” and wore T-shirts together with her title inscribed round a coronary heart.

“That assist helped give me the additional edge I wanted to win,” she stated.

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