Galimore, Black Gymnast, Bent on Attaining Major Objectives

By Neil Amdur

New York Times, July 29, 1979   The bubble-gum card was a surprise Christmas present from the fiancee of his college roommate and was mounted handsomely on a wooden base.  Each time Ron Galimore studies the card with the picture of his late father in a Chicago Bears uniform it brings back warm memories.

Chicago was where it all began, with the cartwheels down the hall of the old Southmoor Hotel. Willie Galimore would watch his son's playful antics, smile and tell his wife, Audrey, that maybe they had an acrobat instead of a running back in the family.

Sixteen years later, Ron Galimore still is practicing his tumbling tricks.  His routines now are far more daring than the cartwheels or even the basic somersaults that he learned with his first team, the Tallahassee (Florida) Tumbling Tots.  In the next month, the 20-year-old Galimore could become the first black to earn a spot on the United States gymnastics team at the world championships.

The 5-foot-7 1/2-inch, 155-pound Galimore is one of 16 members on the national men's squad after winning the floor exercise and vault competitions and finishing ninth in the all-around division at the United States Gymnastics Federation championships earlier this year.

"He's a very talented athlete, with tremendous potential," Mas Watanabe, the program director of the men's team, said today at the National Sports Festival, where Galimore competed tonight for the South squad in the men's team event.  "He's already accomplished a lot in the sport."

Few blacks have ventured into the rigidly disciplined world of gymnastics because of the lack of suitable practice facilities, the high cost of coaching and the absence of a professional outlet in the sport.  Mario McCutcheon and Wally Miller, from New York, have succeeded at the national level.  Mike Carter of Philadelphia was an alternate on the 1976 United States Olympic team.

"All of us have different backgrounds and how we got where we did," Galimore said.

Willie Galimore, one of pro football's most exciting runners, died in an automobile accident in 1964.  It was young Galimore's mother who encouraged him to try gymnastics after the family returned to Florida.  "She's been a motivating factor," he said yesterday.  "And she's always been behind me."

Galimore played Pee Wee League football, felt capable, and found it "a lot of fun," but was looking for other rewards.  The fact that few blacks had ever achieved greatness in gymnastics stuck in his mind.  He brought his football-playing friends into the gym and told them to try the rings or bars.

They strained, could not make it, and he had his respect.  Now they tell Galimore, "It's good to see a brother in the sport."

"I played junior varsity basketball and ran track," he recalled.  "However, I didn't receive the fulfillment I gained out of gymnastics.  At the end of football or basketball, you can say, 'We should have won, or we should have done this.'  But gymnastics is how much you put in and how much you get out.  It's you against the apparatus.  It's one-on-one."

Friends of his father tell Galimore they see a facial resemblance, but there may be more similarities between father and son as competitors.  Willie Galimore generated excitement as a ball carrier.  With the exception of those of Kurt Thomas, who is America's best-known gymnast, Ron Galimore's floor exercise and vault routines are perhaps the most explosive of any American, particularly his leaping ability and the amplitude of his moves.

"He has tremendous power in his body," Watanabe said.  "And because he's so athletic it makes his routines that much more impressive."

For all his floor dynamics, Galimore is calm and patient away from the action, two other characteristics he recalls in his father.  A speech and telecommunications major at Iowa State University, where he transferred after two years at Louisiana State University, Galimore talks confidently and relaxed, possessing a keen sense of self.  He says, "You can be a lot more dynamic and explosive if you're more of a thinker."

"I don't think I'll ever look back until I finish competition," he said of his achievements, which already include a collegiate vault title and participation with the United States team at the World University Games several years ago.  "I'm constantly looking ahead.  I think I've accomplished things that some people might be happy with, but I'm not looking back because they may slow me down.  I have so much more to gain."

In this regard, Galimore recently spent several weeks training with Thomas in northern Wisconsin.  He has worked with the world champion since their age group years in Florida.

"Kurt's been very helpful to me," Galimore said.  "He creates a comfortable environment for other competitors to pull the best out of them.  I'm happy for him because he's helped others and opened a door for us that might not have been there."

The door appears open for Galimore.  The final men's tryouts to determine the spots on the American team for this year's world championships will be held next month in Fort Collins, Colo.  The world championships will be contested for the first time in this hemisphere, Dec. 2-9, in Fort Worth.

"He could be a potential representative for our country, and that means top seven," Watanabe said.  "Right now, he's still a little weak on some of his apparatus work, like the rings, horse and bars.  But I think he's making progress in all four events.  He's a year or two away from making it really big, but if he stays with it and trains, it's all there."

This page was created on July 24, 2004.
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