Gymnastics Centurions

Dr. A.B. Frederick is an author, gymnastics historian and director of the Roots Project, which aims to expose the history of gymnastics in the USA as a family tree (roots, branches, leaves, etc.).  He recently presented a quiz on Gymn-l:
"In the Roman army, a centurion commanded 100 men. The list of names below consists of fifty American gymnastics "Centurions" (those that should command our attention)."  After nine days, the List identified all of the names connecting them with a feature that is attributed to each.   Dr. Frederick was pleasantly surprised with the List's efforts and was able to correct several items as a result.  (His book Roots of American Gymnastics identifies hundreds of gymnasts, coaches and other who are prominent in the field.)   The correct matches are found below, along with some embellishment.  Other facts about the Centurions and many others are found in Roots
To order a copy of his book Roots of American Gymnastics or to learn more about the Roots Project, please contact Dr. Frederick at:
                                                A. Bruce Frederick, Ph.D.
                                                Director -- ROOTS PROJECT
                                                1043 11th Avenue
                                                Wilmington, DE 19808

Francis Allen/Jim Howard:   Five Consecutive NCAA Men's Team Titles.  Gene Wettstone's teams managed three in a row but has accumulated a record nine titles; Utah (NCAA women's team titles) has four consecutive but has won ten team titles since 1981 when they won the last AIAW title.

Frank Bare:   First Executive Director of USGF/USAG.

Jack Beckner:   Giant of the Pan Am Games.  He was the tallest of all American gymnasts and long time judge. In addition to his nine Pan Am Games gold medals, he and Charlie Simms were the first Americans to compete in a World Championships (1954).
Doris Brause:   Swinging bars into the future. A famous moment for Americans in 1966.  Her routine was drawn and redrawn by every major illustrator in the field including Meg Warren and Klaus Wiemann.  My drawings appeared in Mademoiselle Gymnast which was published for five years.
Bart Conner:   "Seven International Open Teams".  The two meets that qualify are the Olympic Games and the World Championships. Shannon Miller shares this honor with Bart.  The List correctly pointed out the Dortmund team meet should be counted for Shannon.  John Roethlisberger has a chance to tie it if his body holds up. Bart was a member of WC/OG  teams in 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983 & 1984.  (Note:  John Roethlisberger was a member of the 1999 World Championships team and thus joins Bart Conner and Shannon Miller as having been on seven international open teams.)
Frank Cumiskey:   Master of the pommels.  Between 1932 and 1947, Cumiskey won seven titles on the PH and is credited by “Red” Lancton to have first performed four pommel horse elements: hop from the neck to the saddle while swinging circles; single pommel circles; a loop on the end with a full twist (“Spindle”) and a back “Moore.”   Moore, you will recall, is the “Father” of American gymnastics.

Dominique Dawes:   Backbone of the "Mag Seven."

Jacquelyn Klein Fie:   FIG's First American Committee President.  She is a former Olympian and threw the javelin.

Marcia Frederick:   Historic Gold and a toe-on Tkachev.  Both she and Kurt Thomas were the first to win gold in a World Championships, in 1978.

Joan Moore Gnat:   Two AAU and Four USGF AA Titles.  Moore tied with Linda Metheny at the first USGF national championships in 1971, and tied with Cathy Rigby in 1972.  In 1973 and 1974, Moore entered and won both the USGF and AAU national championships.

Abie Grossfeld:   "I never thought it would happen in my lifetime." Abie was quoted after the 1984 US men won the team gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. Those who matched Abie with "Elite Coach and Gymnast from IL" should get some credit, but Abie was from NYC and competed for IL during his collegiate career. His first coaches all came from NYC (in particular John Van Aalten).
Muriel Davis Grossfeld:   “What Else Is There?” (Citation from Christina Lessa’s Gymnastics Balancing Acts, p. 158.)  Muriel is still very active as an elite coach.
Jim Hartung:   The Pride of Nebraska.  Certainly the most notable gymnast ever from Nebraska and a Nebraska native winning state HS titles, Hartung was a member of the Omaha Sokol. He also competed for the latter.
Gus Heinemann:   Coached our First Notable Women's Champions.  Heinemann was the Director of Physical Education at Temple University in Philadelphia during the first part of the century. He was well trained in gymnastics at the Normal School of the North American Turnerbund and was the gymnastics instructor at the Philadelphia Turngemeinde (Gymnastic Society), only a short walk from Temple University. ("Turnen" in German means to do gymnastics; a Turner is a gymnast;  a Turnhalle is a gymnastics gymnasium etc.). He coached both men and women at the Turners and in 1931 one of his prize gymnasts, Roberta Ranck, became our first national all-around champion. She also won the national AAU javelin event that same year and was the only woman elected with the first group of athletes to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. Roberta in turn along with Heinemann prepared women for both the 1936 and 1948 Olympics.  Some gymnasts selected for the team could not go because they could not afford to pay their own expenses. For example, Pearl Perkins (the Mary Lou Retton of the Thirties), Helm McKee and Jennie Hines were not able to go. Some declared later that their parents objected to their daughters performing in front of Hitler! The first Olympics after the War was in 1948. Two of Heinemann's girls were once again prominent in the 1948 Olympics in London (Clara Schroth and Marion Barone). Roberta (now Mrs. Bonniwell) went along as chaperone and team leader. Our team won the Olympic bronze medal.  Heinemann's girls were very prominent in gymnastics in the 1930s and 1940s, thus he coached a number of our first notable women's champions.
Al Jochim:   Most Durable Olympian.  He competed in four Olympic Games and won a total of thirty-five national titles.
Kathy Johnson:   America's Tenacious Gymnastics Swan.  She held on to become the first American to medal in both a World Championships (1978) and Olympic Games (1984).
Leslie Judd:   Coaching Mentor and Showman.  He trained seventeen prominent coaches at Springfield College who went on the coach at the collegiate level. He also wrote a good book on gymnastics demonstrations and was a pioneer in the sport.  Springfield College still puts on an annual gymnastics demonstration "Home Show."
Frank Kriz:   Gold for the Bohemians of NY.  This was the first Olympic gold medal won by an American, unless you count those gleaned in the 1904 Olympics. Some historians have mixed feelings about this.  Sokol NY, a Czech society for gymnastics and physical education, was known as the Bohemian Sokol.
Newt Loken:   Give a Cheer for this Author.  Loken was a prolific writer in three fields. In gymnastics, his The Complete Book of Gymnastics was widely used and went through three editions.  He coached at the University of Michigan for 36 years and led his team to 2 NCAA titles and numerous Big-10 titles.
Clara Schroth Lomady:   Gymnast, Mother and Most Titles.  She won an amazing 38 national titles during her career, including eleven consecutive balance beam titles.

Lou Mang:   Legendary Coach of the Naval Academy.  Among others, he coached Admiral Byrd.

"Bud" Marquette:  First Private Club for Girls (SCATS) and coach of Cathy Rigby.

Julianne McNamara:   Golden Girl of the National Academy.  The Academy recently held its 25th anniversary, and both Julianne and Tracee Talavera (also a "Golden Girl") were elected to the National Gymnastics Hall of Fame. 

Shannon Miller:   In a Class by Herself.  She is the only American to rank among the top ten gymnasts ever based upon an accumulation of medals in Olympic and World competition. No one else comes close.
Roy Moore:   Father of American Gymnastics.  First coach of our Olympic team.   The "Moore" on pommel horse is named in his honor.
Linda Mulvihill:   Elite Gymnast and Coach from Illinois.  She and her husband Dick coached numerous national, World and Olympic gymnasts, including Julianne McNamara, Tracee Talavera, Leslie Pyfer, Karen Kelsall and Nancy Goldsmith.

George Nissen:   Rebounding All Over the World.  Invented and patented the first modern ("Flashfold") trampoline.

Charlie Pond:   Leatherneck's Gift to Gymnastics.  The gift was the modern twisting belt.  Charlie is still very active teaching his "Look In" twisting technique.  He was also the most prominent coach in free-style skiing and the personal coach of World Champion free-styler Frank Bare Jr.

Mildred Prchal:   Half a Century of Sokol Leadership.  Mildred was one of several prominent women to bring rhythmic sport gymnastics to the attention of the NGB.  A colleague from the University of Illinois, Annelis Hoyman, was also very active at the outset.

Hartley Price:   Coined the Term "Spotting."  In 1930 Price, recently graduated from Springfield College, was hired to coach at the University of  Illinois. He was an excellent recruiter and gathered together some of best gymnasts in the country. He founded the University of Illinois Gymkana which put on shows to raise money and found ways for his gymnasts to earn money to pay their tuition. "Doc" wasn't much of a coach. His theory was, "Put the best gymnasts in the country together in the same gymnasium and they'll coach each other." That they did, winning five NCAA team titles in eighteen years. He tried to emphasized safety by painting a large white circles (4' in diameter) on the gymnasium's walls. He called these "spots." When his gymnasts saw the spot, they were supposed to think safety and look for those who could assist them through one element or another.  Such assistance became known as "spotting."
Mary Lou Retton: Golden Moment and a Wheaties Box.  All Wheaties boxes may be found at the following URL: Wheaties: List of Champions .

John Roethlisberger:   "We're not doormats any more!"  John remains the male gymnast of the Nineties and hopes to make the 1999 World Championship team. 

Bill Roetzheim:   From AAU Champ. to FIG Technical Committee.  Bill won the national AAU all-around in 1949, 1950 and 1951. At the time, this was our national championship. Later, he was a member of the FIG Men’s Technical Committee and was “coached” for a time by the guy who invented the term “spot.”  Most recently Butch Zunich attributes the term “flop” to Roetzheim and himself. So the LIST is
contributing to historical data.

Makoto Sakamoto:   Unique Sweep.  Sakamoto was the only male gymnast to sweep the national championships (in 1965).

Andrea Bodo Schmid:   Magyar with Rhythm.  She was one of a few who won the Olympic team gold for group exercises with hand apparatus. You will find three pictures of Andrea in the very first issue of the Modern Gymnast which is now International Gymnast.

Art Shurlock:   Art of the Uclans.  UCLA, that is, but he competed for Berkeley under Hal Frey and is a native of Chicago.

Glenn Sundby:   A Magazine and a Dream.  He founded International Gymnast in 1957 and walked down the stairs of the Washington Monument on his hands!

Alla Svirsky:   A Rhythmic Coach to Remember.  US rhythmic coach for twenty years, training a number of prominent champions.

George Szypula:   Tumbling Champion and Coach for Fifty Years.  He is still coaching high school students in East Lansing, Michigan.  While President of the College Coaches Association (NAAGC) he founded the National Gymnastics Hall of Fame with the assistance of the Helms Athletic Foundation in 1957.  The first group of honorees were named two years later.
Kurt Thomas:   A Flair for Gold.  The Thomas Flair is still a frequently performed element in men's PH and FX routines.  Kurt is the only gymnast to win the coveted Sullivan Award.
Peter Vidmar:   Golden Captain from the Golden State.  Vidmar was captain of 1984 men's Olympic team which won the gold in Los Angeles.

Herb Vogel:   Father of Women's Collegiate Gymnastics.  (Southern Illinois University).  Vogel singlehandedly established women's gymnastics as a collegiate sport.

Ernestine Russell Weaver:   Sweep in 1955.  Canadians were allowed to enter our National AAU Championships. Later Ernie coached and had an illustrative career at Clarion State College (PA) and Univ. of Florida.  She never lost a dual meet while at Clarion.
Lyle Wesler:   Founder of the National Gymnastics Clinic.  This annual gathering became the precursor for something like a National Congress.
Eugene Wettstone:   Dean of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches.   In addition to training many men who became  prominate gymnastic coaches, Wettstone’s Penn State teams won more national team titles than any other. Nebraska could tie this record with one more title.
George Wheeler:   Five Years without a Peer.  Wheeler, a genius, was way ahead of his time. Most of his peers when asked, “Who was the best?” immediately respond, "George Wheeler."  First gymnast West of the Alleghenies to win a national title. Five consecutive national AA championships. Only the great Al Jochim had six consecutive national AA titles.

Kim Zmeskal:   All-Around History in Indianapolis.  Zmeskal was the first American all-around champion in a World Championships competition (1991).

Leopold F. Zwarg:   Gymnastics Historian, Author and Coach.  Dr. Zwarg's work is cited even in recent years.  He was a master coach and wrote the best book available in English in the early Twenties, complete with excellent photographs of himself performing the major elements in vogue at the time.

This page was created on July 22, 1999.  home.gif (2896 bytes)