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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Dianne Durham, First Black USA Gymnastics National Champion, Dies at 52

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Dianne Durham, the first Black woman to win a United States Gymnastics national championship in 1983, died on Thursday.

She was 52.

Her husband, Tom Drahozal, confirmed her death.

“I think between her and Mary Lou Retton, they felt they introduced more of a power gymnastics,” Drahozal told the Associated Press. “Dianne was a pioneer for Black gymnasts as well … She paved the way for others.”

During the 1983 national championships, Durham made history, paving the way for generations of aspiring Black gymnasts. Durham secured the all-around title en route to four gold medals (balance beam, floor exercise and vault) and a silver medal (uneven bars).

“As an icon and trailblazer in our sport, Dianne opened doors for generations of gymnasts who came after her, and her legacy carries on each day in gyms across the country,” USA Gymnastics president Li Li Leung said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with her friends and family during this difficult time.”

Shortly after her 13th birthday, Durham became one of the few major Black gymnasts after relocating to Texas to train under coach Bela Karolyi.

Durham’s had her heart set on the 1984 Olympics, but she, unfortunately, suffered a torn ankle ligament when she landed a challenging vault at the Olympic trials, forcing her to withdraw.

“I was depressed,” Durham told ESPN last July. “The city of Gary was behind me 100,000 percent, and I felt like I let my family down. Everybody uprooted their lives for me. It does take a chunk out of you, when you have literally played by the rules and done the right things and trained hard and did everything that you were supposed to do correctly, to have it end up that way.”

She retired from the sport in 1985.

Durham blazed the trail for Black female Olympic gymnasts, including Dominique Dawes, who in 1996 became the first Black gymnast to win an individual event at the Olympics. Sixteen years later, Gabby Douglas made history when she became the first Black gymnast to win the 2012 Olympics’ all-around champion’s title — and Simone Biles continues to break records.

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