Kurt Thomas, the first U.S. male to win a world championship gold medal, died on Friday. He was 64 years old. His family confirmed the news and said that Thomas suffered a stroke on May 24, caused by a tear of the basilar artery in the brain stem.
Thomas drew attention to his "original and daring skills." This included his signature moves, the "Thomas Flair" on a pommel horse, and the "Thomas Salto" on floor exercise. He won eight world medals during the 1978 and 1979 world championships. This includes three gold medals. It was during the 1978 world championships in Strasbourg, France, where Thomas made history by winning the first U.S. men's title.
"Yesterday I lost my universe, my best friend and my soul mate of twenty-four years. Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife," Beckie Thomas said, per International Gymnast Magazine. Thomas and Beckie owned and operated Kurt Thomas Gymnastics in Frisco, Texas, prior to his death.
Thomas also secured the American Cup three times during his career and competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He had an opportunity to fight for the gold during the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, but the United States boycotted. "In my mind and my heart, I knew I was the best at that time," Thomas said at the time.
The champion gymnast stepped away from competition in 1980 for other pursuits. Thomas worked as a commentator for ABC Sports during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He also starred in the 1985 film Gymkata, in which he portrayed Jonathan Cabot.
In this action film, Thomas had to infiltrate the fictional country of Parmistan in order to compete in "The Game," an endurance race with obstacles. However, his character faced terrorist attacks and had to respond with "Gymkata," a mix of gymnastics and karate. He ultimately took part in The Game and defeated the villainous Zamir.
"Kurt was a fierce rival, who went on to become a cherished friend," Olympian Bart Conner posted on Twitter. "Proud to have been your teammate. Sending hugs to his wife Beckie, his children, Hunter, Kassidy and Kurt as well as the entire gymnastics community, who lost a true pioneer today."
In 1989, Thomas attempted a comeback in hopes of competing in the 1992 Olympics. He made it to the Olympic Trials at the age of 36. However, he fell short of capturing one of the six spots and ultimately retired. Thomas later focused on coaching other gymnasts at his facility in Texas.