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Kurt Thomas, first US man to win world gym title, dies at 64

Kurt Thomas, the first U.S. male gymnast to win a world championship gold medal, has died. He was 64.

Thomas’ family said he died Friday. He had a stroke May 24, caused by a tear of the basilar artery in the brain stem.

“Yesterday, I lost my universe, my best friend and my soulmate of 24 years. Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife,” wife Beckie Thomas told International Gymnast Magazine.

After competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Thomas won the floor exercise in the 1978 world championships in Strasbourg, France, for the first U.S. men’s title. In the 1979 worlds in Fort Worth, Texas, he successfully defended the floor exercise title and won the horizontal bar.

“I am completely devastated to hear this,” Olympic teammate Bart Conner told International Gymnast Magazine. “Kurt was a fierce rival, who went on to become a cherished friend. My heart is breaking for his wife, Beckie, his children, Hunter, Kassidy and Kurt, as well as the entire gymnastics community, who lost a true pioneer today.”

Thomas lost a chance for Olympic gold when the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics. He then turned professional, starred in the 1985 movie “Gymkata” and worked as a television commentator. He and Beckie owned and ran Kurt Thomas Gymnastics in Frisco, Texas.

Thomas starred at Indiana State, winning five NCAA titles and leading the Sycamores to the 1977 team crown. He won the AAU’s 1979 James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur and was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2003.

“All of us in the gymnastics family are sadden, shocked and devastated by the passing of our own,” Nadia Comaneci tweeted. “Love to the family.”