TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) – Indiana State University officials remember the life of Sycamore legend and champion gymnast, Kurt Thomas.
The first ever to win a world championship gold medal in U.S. men’s gymnastics, those who got to watch Kurt Thomas perform say it was a pleasure.
“As a young boy growing up, I remember watching him compete. He was extraordinary, he did things out there on the floor that I’ve never seen before,” said Sherard Clinkscales, ISU director of athletics.
Before Thomas was a world champion, he also brought glory to Indiana State University.
In 1977, Thomas led the Sycamores to a national championship in gymnastics.
During his collegiate career he won five individual NCAA championships, 13 All-America honors, and was named the nation’s top amateur athlete by winning the James E. Sullivan award.
“It came along at a time in Indiana State athletics between the late 70’s and early 80’s where you had Larry Bird, Bruce Baumgartner, Wallace Johnson, just people that were stalwarts in their area,” Clinkscales said.
While his athletic accomplishments were big, those who got to meet him also say he had a personality to match.
“Most gymnasts are so focused on their craft tend to be a little bit more introverted and Kurt was definitely not. So this larger than life personality added certainly to the representative he was not just for Indiana State University but for his sport,” said Dr. Deborah Curtis, ISU president.
Curtis says in December she met Thomas and learned that the 1977 team never received their championship rings.
While there were already plans to celebrate the team later this year, Curtis says she is saddened that Thomas never received that championship honor.
“My heart was broken not just to lose him but to not have been able for this university to provide him with that ring,” Curtis said.
Curtis says she hopes to honor the 1977 team when Hulman Center renovations are completed.
Thomas was inducted into the Indiana State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999 and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2003.
Thomas was unable to compete in the 1980 Olympics, due to a boycott of the games by the U.S.