Dianne Durham Vaults from Obscurity

By Dan Hulbert

New York Times, June 21, 1982  Dianne Durham, a muscular 15-year-old schoolgirl, vaulted her way out of obscurity over the weekend in the second United States Gymnastics Federation International Invitational.

Miss Durham, one of the few black athletes in world-class gymnastics, was a last-minute entry for the Sundance Athletic Club of Houston.  She shared the all-around title with Kathy Johnson, a teammate.  This was Miss Durham's first major international meet, but privately many coaches who have seen her perform consider her to be among the best women vaulters in the world.

Miss Durham, who is from Gary, Ind., has been with several clubs over the last two years but was not happy with them. She finally began to blossom under Coach Bela Karolyi when she joined the Sundance Club three months ago.  Karolyi has been credited with developing Nadia Comaneci and the Rumanian national team into world champions before defecting 14 months ago.  The victories by Miss Durham and the American men's and women's teams -- in a field of seven countries including China, Japan and the Soviet Union -- were particularly sweet to Karolyi, who said, "Beat the Russians, that's what I told Dianne.  The most important thing for us now, strategically and psychologically, is to show that we can bet them."

Other coaches, however, felt the Soviet team had backed away from a meaningful showdown by sending a group of relatively untried gymnasts that Abie Grossfeld, the American men's coach, characterized as "not even their second-string team."  There was considerable speculation that the Soviets refused to recognize the invitation, a three-day competition, as a major international meet because it was first set up in 1980 as an alternative to the Moscow Olympics, for countries boycotting that event.

China, however, did send some of its top gymnasts, and although they faltered slightly in the early rounds of competition, finishing second to the Americans for the team title, they dominated the individual event finals Saturday night, taking eight gold medals to four for the United States.  The Russians, meanwhile, finished fourth in both men's and women's team competition, and managed just one silver and a bronze in the individual finals.

Jim Hartung of the University of Nebraska, showing the great strength and consistency that are his trademarks, scored no lower than 9.7 on every event in the all-around competition.  But China's superb Li Ning took the gold from him, 58.75 points to 58.60.  Hartung was out of form in the finals, however, and managed to win or share just two silver medals.  Ning won or shared gold in three of the six events.

In floor exercise, Ning's 9.9 edged his heavily favored teammate, Li Yuejiu, the world champion in this event.

Mitch Gaylord, a 20-year-old from UCLA, had a 9.8 score in the final vault of the team competition to give the United States its victory over China, 174.55 to 174.5 Thursday night.  However, his heart-breaking fall from the horizontal bar, his specialty, in Saturday night's finals deprived the Americans of a gold medal that they had counted on.

The Chinese women, who are generally more slender and willowy than the Americans or Soviet athletes, once again were undone by the vaulting event, which requires lots of leg power.  This is something Miss Durham has lots of, and her gold-winning Tsukahara with a full twist was far higher than anyone else's.

In the other three events, however, the Chinese and American women were evenly matched.  Ma Yanhong, regarded as the top uneven bar specialist since her victory here in the 1979 world championships, shared the gold in that event with a teammate, Wu Jiani.  Miss Wu shared the gold in balance beam with Miss Johnson -- who at 21 is 4 years older than any of her teammates -- and with Michelle Goodwin, a surprising newcomer.

Miss Johnson, known for her expressive floor exercise routine, was injured in warm ups and forced to scratch from that event.  Victory in the floor exercise was shared by Miss Ma and by Amy Koopman, a 15-year-old American, in routines which, contrary to recent trends, seemed to emphasize graceful dance over powerful tumbling.

The only bright spot for Japan, whose dominance in men's gymnastics has been slipping over the past few years, was the performance of the veteran Koji Gushiken, who won the horizontal bar final and who successfully defended his title as world champion in parallel bars with a 9.95.


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