USA Gymnastics announced Friday that Dianne Durham will be inducted into the 2021 Hall of Fame, 38 years after she became the first Black gymnast to win the senior national championship and four months after her death at age 52.
Durham will be inducted alongside the 2004 U.S. men’s Olympic team and four individuals, including six-time world medalist Rebecca Bross, on June 26 in St. Louis.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Durham was known for her artistry and power, as an all-around gymnast and as a joyful performer who infused routines with her personality. After winning back-to-back junior national titles in 1981 and 1982, Durham moved to Houston to train with Bela and Martha Karolyi, who defected from Romania in 1981. At 15, she captured the 1983 senior national title, a groundbreaking achievement, and along with her teammate, Mary Lou Retton, ushered in an era of power tumbling and progression in the sport.
The last gymnast to beat Retton in all-around competition, Durham seemed bound for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and a run at the all-around title, but a combination of injuries and politics deprived her of a spot on the team. Durham retired from competition at 16 and eventually became a coach, gym owner and national-level judge in Chicago.
“Dianne loved gymnastics no matter what,” Durham’s husband, Tom Drahozal, told ESPN. “But after what happened in 1984, even though she loved it, she always felt part of the community didn’t love her as much as she loved the sport. She felt like the powers that be didn’t value her contribution to the sport.”
After her death in February, Drahozal received an outpouring of messages from current and former gymnasts who were inspired by Durham. USA Gymnastics president Li Li Leung called and sent flowers. Members of the 1984 Olympic team reached out to say Durham was long overdue her spot in the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Paul Ziert, former University of Oklahoma coach and the publisher of International Gymnast, organized a fundraiser to create a Dianne Durham Humanitarian Award and raised more than $25,000. Last weekend, at the invitation of USA Gymnastics, Ziert spoke about Durham’s accomplishments during a ceremony honoring her at the U.S. Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I don’t think she ever expected this kind of response,” Drahozal said. “She would be overwhelmed.”
Drahozal said he believes the groundswell of support for his wife after her death, as well as the efforts of members of the 1984 women’s Olympic gymnastics team, pushed USA Gymnastics and the Hall of Fame committee to finally recognize Durham.
“It’s all bittersweet,” Drahozal said. “The recognition is nice, but I wish she was here to see it all and to personally receive her award. She always said this day would never happen.”
The induction ceremony for 2020 and 2021 Hall of Fame inductees will take place alongside Olympic trials in St. Louis. Drahozal and Durham’s sister, Alice Durham Woods, plan to attend and accept the award on her behalf.