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While the program has grown each year, so have the costs. Room and board are collected from each of the players, but that still leaves the Hunts some $10,000 short of the money they need to operate the club. They rely on cash donations for that. "We're always looking for support," says Ron, "but we don't feel like we're wasting our time."
Besides, Ron has always been willing to take one for the team.
To the overlong list of overage athletes making overambitious comebacks, add the name of gymnast Kurt Thomas. A 1976 Olympian and a former world champion in floor exercises and horizontal bar, the 35-year-old Thomas competed in last week's U.S. championships in Cincinnati, his first national-level meet in 11 years. Thomas wound up 22nd in a field of 49—far from the top-six finish he needed to qualify for a berth on the U.S. squad for September's world championships.
Though Thomas's routines were clearly not up to the level of today's best, he insisted after the meet that he will continue his quest for a spot on the '92 Olympic team. "We go back to the drawing board," said Thomas. "I'm not thrilled, but I'm not discouraged."
In the weeks leading up to the meet several of his younger competitors obviously were discouraged by the attention Thomas and his comeback were receiving. In the May issue of Gentlemen's Quarterly, national team member Patrick Kirksey called Thomas "the Milli Vanilli of gymnastics," and 1991 American Cup champion Trent Dimas suggested Thomas was returning to the sport only to make money.
Thomas, noted in his heyday for his brash attitude, bristled at the criticism. "They're jealous," he said. "I'm stealing their thunder." He made no attempt to muffle his own thunder by arriving in Cincinnati with an entourage that included an agent and a publicist.
Perhaps the best male gymnast the U.S. has ever produced, Thomas retired from the sport in '80, bitter over that year's U.S.-led Olympic boycott. In the decade that followed, he spent his time producing and performing in Kurt Thomas Gymnastics America, an Ice Capades-style revue. "I'm coming back because I can" said Thomas. "And of course I'm doing it for the glory. I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."
In the end, Thomas gained little beyond the scattered shouts of "Go, Kurt!" that greeted his appearance in the arena. The crowd was otherwise rightfully focused on first-place finisher Chris Waller of UCLA Waller was gracious when speaking about Thomas. "I thought Kurt performed well," he said. "If he brings attention to gymnastics, that's great."
Stick 'Em Up