Dianne Durham's passion for gymnastics continues

August 6, 2012 (CHICAGO)

There are few of us who know the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of Olympic athletes. Dianne Durham was No. 1 in the country in gymnastics before the 1984 Olympics. She didn't have any African-American gymnasts as role models at the time. But today she is glad to see that group of role models growing.

Durham stills delights in the skill, athleticism and style of herself as a teenage gymnast. And you bet she was watching last week as Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman to win gold in the individual all-around gymnastics competition.

"She was a treasure that shined and shined and shined," Durham said.

Durham was an elite gymnast as well. She was destined for the 1984 Olympics. After all, she had beaten the Russian and Romania gymnasts in earlier matches.

ABC7's Jim Rose spoke with her and her coach Bela Karolyi In 1983.

"If the Olympic Games would be tomorrow, she would be a gold medalist at least on the vault and medalist on the floor," said Karolyi.

An injury knocked Durham off the 1984 team from which Mary Lou Retton would win gold.

At the time, Durham was the only African-American girl at her elite level.

"I was just in love with gymnastics," said Durham. "I loved what I was doing, and I happened to be a black American female."

Durham's family, neighbors and strangers in Gary helped her finance training.

When she returned home injured, she says it was difficult.

"I went through not a major but a mild depression, because I felt I let so many people down," Durham said.

But Durham says the same people who supported her Olympic bid supported her in life after competition.

"You get over that because your family is still there, and I accomplished a lot of things that a lot of people never accomplished, and I'd gone places that I'd never ever gone," said Durham.

Durham had a gymnastics gym in Chicago for 17 years that she closed earlier this year.

She is also a judge. Durham judged a competition this spring at which Gabby Douglas was among the gymnasts.

Durham understands what an Olympic win can mean.

"Our little hidden treasure. [Douglas] just beamed and shined and did her job and did it well and was the Olympic champion, and she will always have that title no matter what," Durham said.

Durham says she is still in touch with some of her fellow gymnasts from the 1980s. She is being called a pioneer for African-American gymnasts.

Durham is working on a book that she hopes will be an inspiration to, not only young athletes, but to anyone about appreciating the journey, not just the gold.

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