Kurt Thomas, first U.S. man to win a gold medal at gymnastics world championships, dies at 64

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Kurt Thomas performing on "The Tonight Show." (Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Kurt Thomas performing on "The Tonight Show." (Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Kurt Thomas, the first American to win a gymnastics gold medal at the world championships, died Friday. He was 64.

Thomas had a basilar stroke May 24, caused by a tear in his basilar artery.

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Thomas’ wife, Beckie Thomas, confirmed the news, telling International Gymnast Magazine she lost her “best friend.”

“Yesterday I lost my universe, my best friend and my soul mate of 24 years. Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife.”

After competing in the 1976 Summer Olympics, Thomas won the gold medal at the world championships in 1978. It was the first time an American man won a gymnastics gold medal at the world championships. Thomas won the medal during the floor exercise event.

The following year, Thomas won a record six gold medals at the 1979 world championships. His record has since been tied by Simone Biles, who accomplished the feat at the 2018 world championships.

Thomas’ success at the event made him a favorite at the 1980 Olympics, but Thomas did not participate in the event after the United States boycotted the games. Thomas was considered for the 1992 Olympics team, but he didn’t advance past trials.

Prior to competing professionally, Thomas was a five-time NCAA champion at Indiana State University. He led the gymnastics team to a national championship in 1977. Thomas also has two gymnastics moves named after him, including the “Thomas flair” and the “Thomas salto.” He was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2003.

Olympic gold medalists Bart Conner paid tribute to Thomas on Twitter, calling Thomas a “cherished friend.”

Nadia Comaneci, who won three gold medals at the 1976 Olympics, said she was shocked and devastated by the news.

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