Kurt Thomas, First American Man to Win World Gymnastics Championship Gold, Dead at 64
Two weeks after suffering a massive stroke, Olympian Kurt Thomas died Friday at 64, People magazine reports.
Kurt's wife Beckie told International Gymnast magazine, "I lost my universe, my best friend, and my soul mate of 24 years. Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife."
Thomas's stroke on May 24 followed a tear to the basilar artery of his brain stem.
Thomas was born on March 29, 1956, in Miami, competing in gymnastics for Indiana State. His winning streak started in 1977, and including being a five-time NCAA champ, leading his school's men's team to the '77 National Championship, more than a dozen All-America honors, the 1979 Nissen Award, and the distinction of being the first U.S. man to win a gold medal in floor exercise in a world championship.
Set to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics, Thomas was denied the chance when the U.S boycotted the ceremonies in Moscow. Instead, he went pro. A 1992 Olympic comeback failed to repeat his previous success, though he became the oldest gymnast to make it to the Olympics trials. "Believe it or not, I may try for '96," he said at the time, posing with his personalized license plate GOLD N 92. "Maybe 50, 60, I'll be out there and my coach will hold my cane."
At the peak of his fame, Thomas was a media celebrity, and starred in the 1985 movie "Gymkata," earning another type of award — a Razzie for Worst New Star. The film became a cult classic, and he took all ribbing about it in stride, continuing to compete professionally and working as a sports commentator.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Beckie, a dancer/choreographer, and their children Kassidy and Hunter. He is also survived by his son from his first marriage, Kurt Travis, a post-hardcore singer.
Thomas was widely mourned on social media by fellow athletes.
Nadia Comaneci tweeted, "All of us in the gymnastics family are sadden ,shocked and devastated by the passing of our own Love to the family," while Bart Conner tweeted, "Kurt Thomas was a fierce rival, who went on to become a cherished friend. Proud to have been your teammate! Sending hugs to his wife Beckie, his children, Hunter, Kassidy and Kurt as well as the entire gymnastics community, who lost a true pioneer today. RIP @3XGold."