Galimore among those at bittersweet reunion for 1980 Olympic gymnastics team

By Eddie Pells, AP
Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reunion brings back emotions for 1980 Olympians

HARTFORD, Conn. — Like the rest on the 1980 team, Ron Galimore never made it to Moscow. The closest he got to Olympic glory was a trip to Washington designed to honor the hundreds of athletes who weren’t allowed to take the trip they really wanted to take.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is cool. We’re at the Kennedy Center. It’s a celebration. I’m with my mother and my sister,’” Galimore said. “They were really going through a lot to try to make us feel good about not going. That’s when it all sank in and I was devastated.”

Many of those memories came back for Galimore and the rest of the members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team on Saturday, when they were honored on the 30th anniversary of the boycott of the Moscow Games.

“I think the one thing we can all agree on is that boycotts really can destroy some dreams,” said Peter Vidmar.

Vidmar, Bart Conner and Jim Hartung got another chance — in 1984, when the United States won team gold at the Los Angeles Olympics, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union as payback for America’s earlier boycott.

Galimore never did go back, and Vidmar believes nobody paid a steeper price.

The son of Chicago Bears running back Willie Galimore, Ron Galimore was in his prime in the lead-up to the 1980 Olympics, considered a good bet to win a medal or two in Moscow and in line to become the first black gymnast to compete for the United States at the Games. Galimore had a good Olympic trials — held despite the fact that the boycott had already been announced — and kept tunnel vision in the leadup to what was supposed to be his trip to Moscow.

“I was just worrying about what I could control,” said Galimore, now a vice president at USA Gymnastics.

But Galimore was out of college by 1981, and in an age of more strict amateurism, he didn’t have many avenues to pursue the 1984 Olympics. He gave up on trying to make another Olympic team and, a few years later, opened a gym in Tallahassee, Fla. That’s when some of the healing began.

His biggest victories: Well, he’s a four-time national champion on vault, three-time winner on floor and a nine-time NCAA All-American, who recorded the first perfect 10 in NCAA history. He also took gold on vault and bronze on floor and rings at the 1980 USGF International Invitational — an event that featured gymnasts from about 10 countries and was designed to serve as something of a replacement for the Olympics.

That event was held in Hartford, in the same arena where this year’s U.S. nationals are taking place this week. Galimore conceded he pushed a lot of the bad feelings down over the years, but some of the emotions he has felt this week are as vivid as what he felt during that trip to Washington 30 years ago.

“I don’t walk around bitter,” he said. “I had my grieving period. I picked myself up and decided if I was able to achieve something only six people every four years achieve, I might accomplish something else big out there. I think it’s well documented that boycotting is a huge mistake. Nothing good came out of it. The only losers were the athletes.”

YOUTH UNSERVED: Kyla Ross won her second straight junior national title Saturday, cementing her among the top gymnasts to watch with the London Olympics less than two years away.

But for the near future, gymnastics fans will have to look closely to find her.

Ross will turn 16 in 2012 and be eligible for the London Olympics, but an international rule in effect for this Olympic cycle will prevent her from competing in senior events until that year. It means she’ll still be a junior in 2011, which will prevent her from competing at the very important world championships in the year before the Games.

It’s a ruling the leaders at USA Gymnastics don’t like.

“It’s a fundamentally bad decision,” USAG president Steve Penny said.

It takes away a chance for an athlete in Ross’ age group to compete at a top-notch international event in the year before the Olympics — a trip considered as important for the athlete, who needs to experience in the spotlight, as for the judges, who want as much time as they can get to form opinions about top gymnasts.

International Gymnastics Federation officials justify the rule change by saying they want to stand firm on the 16-year-old age limit and there’s no use creating loopholes. They also point to the Olympic test event in London — which in 2012 will also serve as an Olympic qualifier — as a prime opportunity for gymnasts turning 16 to get some high-profile experience before the Games.

In the last Olympic cycle, 15-year-old Shawn Johnson was able to compete in the 2007 worlds because of the loophole. She won the all-around gold medal there and gained invaluable experience. Experience that Ross won’t get in 2011.

“It’s not in the best interest of the athlete to expect them to go to the Olympic Games, possibly in their first time on the international stage, and expect that to be their best event,” Penny said. “That’s cheating the athlete.”

ROPES AND MATS: The men’s program announced the six gymnasts who will head to the Netherlands for world championships in October. They are national champion Jonathan Horton, runner-up Danell Leyva, Chris Brooks, Chris Cameron, Brandon Wynn and Steven Legendre. The alternate is Paul Ruggeri. The top 10 finishers from Saturday night’s women’s competition advance to selection camp, where the worlds team will be chosen. … Julie Zetlin of Bethesda, Md., won the all-around in rhythmic to go with gold medals in ball, hoop and ribbon.

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