This Olympic Gymnast Paved The Way For Black Athletes
Dianne Durham paved the way for Black athletes as she became the first African American gymnast to make the U.S. national team and the first to become a national champion.
At just 14 years young, Durham won the national all-around title and took home gold in vault, balance beam, and floor exercises in 1983. She was one of the top ranked gymnasts in the country during this time.
“What she did is open the door and say any young girl, not any young white girl, can win and be great in this sport,” says Durham’s longtime friend Paul Ziert, publisher of International Gymnast magazine, to ESPN.
In the 1980’s, Bela and Martha Karolyi left their coaching careers in Romania to join the U.S. national team. The U.S. gymnastics community was slow to accept the Karolyis as they trained to transform the U.S. into a winning team.
They quickly found a star in Dianne Durham, coaching her to become their first national champion. Durham’s success was a major factor in the Karolyis establishing their coaching careers with the U.S. national team.
Durham saw her national championship title as her next step towards being an Olympic gymnast. Unfortunately, Durham’s Olympic dreams fell short after she endured multiple injuries which cost her a spot on the team.
After a successful but short career, Durham would not let her injuries take gymnastics out of her life. She continued coaching and judging gymnastics, as well as owning and running her own gym, Skyline Gymnastics, for 17 years.
In June of 2020 Durham posted the following comments on her Facebook page, “In my own life and gymnastics career I encountered discrimination and prejudice. It didn’t stop me from reaching all of my goals, but it did play a role in preventing me from reaching some of my biggest goals…. People are now standing up and calling out wrong when they see it. We need to continue to do this. That is the only way that we can make this change permanent.”
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