In Loving Memory of Dianne Durham (1968 - 2021)
The first-ever African American senior US national gymnastics champion, Dianne Durham, died after a short illness on February 4, 2021; she was only 52 years of age.
Durham was born in Gary, a city in Lake County, Indiana. She started doing gymnastics at the tender age of 3; as her dad told her, her parents put her in gymnastics "to stop her from ruining the furniture".
Initially, she trained in Indiana and was coached by Wanda Tomasi-Mohoi. It was her coach Wanda, who told her, realizing Dianne's amazing talent and potential, that she should get proper elite training, and, in 1981, having a junior US national gymnastics championship under her belt, she moved to Houston, Texas, to train with Bela and Martha Karoly, who had recently defected from Romania. The Karolys had been the coaches of Nadia Comaneci, who was Durham's gymnastics inspiration.
In 1982, Durham not only won her 2nd junior US national gymnastics championships but she also successfully competed in her first international meet.
1983 would be Dianne Durham's most successful year: she became the first black gymnast to win the senior US national gymnastics championships all-around title. She also won the gold medals in every single event final, except for uneven bars, where she finished 2nd.
Dianne was expected to qualify and compete in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. However, at the US Olympic trials, she started the run for her vault, an intricate Tsukahara with a full twist, as she blocked her vault, her legs were unusually separated, which didn't allow her to obtain the necessary height to get a good landing. She came a bit short, and though, she landed on her feet, she immediately sat in pain, but quickly rose to her feet again to salute the judges. However, she had torn her ankle ligament and had to withdraw from the Olympic trials. Since she hadn't competed in the 1983 world championships the previous year, and not having any results at the Olympic trials, she would not be eligible for the 1984 Olympic Games.
Durham retired from elite gymnastics competition after the trials, but she continued working in gymnastics as a coach.
In 2017, Dianne was inducted into the Region 5 Gymnastics Hall of Fame, and she said that, though she had no regrets, she wished she had been told at the Olympic Trials about the eligibility rules, as she would have continued competing with the pain, and try to make the US Olympic Team.
In Dianne's own words, she "broke a glass ceiling when she won the US national championships and became the first black gymnast to become a national artistic gymnastics champion".