Indiana State University Newsroom

Former ISU, Olympic athlete Kurt Thomas named to MVC Hall of Fame

February 23, 2011

Former Indiana State University gymnast Kurt Thomas will will be inducted into the 14th class of the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame.

Thomas is among six athletes who will be inducted in a ceremony as part of the State Farm MVC Men's Basketball Championship.

The induction ceremony will take place Friday, March 4 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The event will begin with an 8 a.m. (CT) breakfast followed by the induction ceremony at 8:45 a.m. (CT).

"Each of our Hall of Fame induction classes is unique in its own way, but this group of individuals might be our most diverse yet," said Commissioner Doug Elgin, who is in his 23rd year with The Valley. "This class features our first soccer, men's gymnastics and volleyball representatives in the Hall of Fame plus a collegiate football player who re-defined the wide receiver position."

A native of Miami, Fla., Thomas joins collegiate and international wrestling great Bruce Baumgartner as former Indiana State student-athletes to receive Institutional Great recognition in the MVC Athletics Hall of Fame.

Indiana State's Larry Bird, who led the Sycamores' march to the 1978-79 NCAA Final Four, was a member of the inaugural MVC Hall Of Fame class in 1997. Track legend Holli Hyche is also a member of the MVC Athletics Hall of Fame, inducted in 1999.

Former Sycamore coaches Duane Klueh and John Wooden received Lifetime Achievement recognition during their induction into the Valley Hall of Fame.

Recognized as one of the first athletes to put the American stamp on international gymnastics, Thomas was a 13-time NCAA All-America performer. He was the NCAA all-around champion in 1977 and 1979, took NCAA parallel bars titles in 1977 and 1979 and was the NCAA horizontal bars champion in 1979. He was pivotal in Indiana State's 1979 NCAA Championship team title.

At the 1975 Pan American Games, he collected a gold medal, two silver medals and two bronze medals. Thomas earned a place on the U.S. Olympic Team and competed at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.

In 1978, Thomas was the first American male gymnast to win a gold medal in floor exercise in a world championship. In 1979, he became the first gymnast to receive the James E. Sullivan Award for the best amateur athlete in the United States and earned two gold medals and three silver medals in international competition.

He was expected by many to win a gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but the games were boycotted by the U.S. government.

Two gymnastic moves were named for him: the Thomas Flair, a pommel horse move actually created by Lloyd Larson at Arizona State University, and the Thomas Salto, his signature skill on floor exercise, a tucked 1.5 backward salto with 1.5 twist into a roll out (a difficult and dangerous skill even by today's standards).

Thomas starred in the 1985 film Gymkata as an athlete sent by the U.S. government to compete in a deadly competition called "The Game." Thomas also starred in the syndicated show True Confessions and has worked as a commentator for ESPN.

In 1996, he married Rebecca Jones, a dancer who also choreographs gymnastic routines, and they have two children.

On Jan. 22, 1999, Thomas was inducted into the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame as both an individual and as a member of the 1977 national championship gymnastics squad. In 2003, he was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Thomas and his wife operate the Kurt Thomas Gymnastics Training Center in Frisco, Texas. His gym has hosted the USAG-sanctioned Kurt Thomas International Invitational gymnastics meet annually since 2003.

Thomas will be joined in this year's MVC Hall of Fame class by basketball standout Joe Allen of Bradley, soccer legend Johnny Torres of Creighton, NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent of Tulsa, collegiate football pioneer Linwood Sexton of Wichita State, and volleyball coaching legend Iradge Ahrabi-Fard of Northern Iowa.

Tickets to the induction ceremony can be obtained by calling the league office at 314-444-4300. Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Photo: - Kurt Thomas (left), former Indiana State University and Olympic athlete, poses with ISU President Dan Bradley prior to the Missouri Vally Conference Hall of Fame ceremony March 4 in St. Louis.