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Dianne Durham, 1st Black US Women's Gymnastics Champ, Dies at 52

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2021

FILE - In this June 5, 1983, file photo, Dianne Durham, right, of Gary, Ind., gives autographs after winning the women's title at the McDonald's U.S.A. Gymnastic Championships at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Durham, the first Black woman to win a USA Gymnastics national championship, died on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, She was 52. (AP Photo/Lisa Genesen, File)
Lisa Genesen/Associated Press

Dianne Durham, who became the first Black woman to win a USA Gymnastics national championship in 1983, died Thursday after a short illness, her husband Tom Drahozal told the Associated Press

She was 52.

"It was groundbreaking what [Durham] did," gymnast Wendy Hilliard told ESPN's Bonnie D. Ford and Alyssa Roenigk in July. "And especially now, to see how hard it is for Black Americans in 2020, people will understand how groundbreaking it was back in 1983. In the Black community, your parents tell you this very early on: In [any] situation where you have to be judged or critiqued for your performance, you have to be twice as good."

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

USA Gymnastics @USAGym

We are heartbroken to share the passing of gymnastics pioneer and icon Dianne Durham. Dianne was the first Black gymnast to capture a national all-around title and paved the way for generations of gymnasts who followed. Our thoughts are with her family. https://t.co/9LC8WzpRH6

Will Graves @WillGravesAP

@USAGym From @Li_Li_Leung "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."

Injuries played a part in keeping Durham out of the 1984 Olympics, forcing her to miss the 1983 world championships and leading her to get scratched from the uneven bars in the 1984 Olympic trials.

Because the rules stated that only gymnasts who finished top-eight at the trials qualified for the Olympic team—and only gymnasts who both competed at the 1983 world championships and also finished top-eight in the national competition that year were eligible to petition to make the team—Durham was left off the Olympic team while Retton starred in the 1984 Games.

Durham stopped competing after that disappointment. 

"Unfortunately, she didn't get into the Olympics because of politics," Drahozal said. "I think she'd come to terms with it. She was doing professional shows (when we met in 1992). But she had told me, 'It was what it was, I can't go back and redo it again.'"

"I was depressed," Durham added in 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."

That she wasn't able to compete in the 1984 Games—and to this day has not been admitted to the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame—is a blight on the country's gymnastics history. Nonetheless, Durham is a pioneer in the sport. 

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