Dianna Durham, the first Black woman to win a USA Gymnastics national championship, died at the age of 52 on Thursday (February 4) in Chicago, Illinois.
Her husband, Tom Drahozal told NBC Chicago her passing came after a short illness.
Durham won the 1983 national championship as a teenager, making history as the first Black female athlete to clutch the top title.
“I think between her and Mary Lou Retton, they felt they introduced more of a power gymnastics,” Drahozal said. “Dianne was a pioneer for Black gymnasts as well.... She paved the way for others.”
Contemporary gymnast greats like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Dominique Dawes, who earned a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, came after Durham’s trail blazing victory.
“The door was open by Dianne,” her husband said.
Biles retweeted a post about Durham's passing on Twitter.
Durham, along with Retton were trained by Romanian gymnast coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi who moved to the US during the early 1980s. Durham moved to Texas to train with them and had been expected to be a clear choice for the 1984 US Olympic Team. In 1983, she won the McDonald’s International Invitational in Los Angeles.
Injuries prevented her from participating in the 1983 world championships and she placed sixth on the opening day of 1984 Olympic trials. Confusion during the trials led her to being scratched from being able to join the Olympic team that year.
Durham later became a judge for competitions and coached on a freelance basis. Her husband hopes the USA Gymnastic organization will honor her contributions by placing her in their Hall of Fame.
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