AMES, Iowa - Iowa State gymnast Ron Galimore took his sport by storm en route to becoming one of the greatest gymnasts of all-time. The Cyclone also blazed a trail to where no African-American had gone before after coming to the Iowa State campus in the fall of 1980.
Galimore was the son of NFL running back Willie Galimore, who played for the Chicago Bears. The elder Galimore is remembered as a fierce competitor. He was killed in a car accident when Ron was seven years of age.
Ron Galimore inherited his father's athletic legacy. Before Ron recognized his passion for gymnastics, he played basketball, ran track, and even tried emulating his father, playing football. Eventually, one sport took priority, gymnastics. Galimore's competitive edge made him engage in a sport where he had to rely on himself to get the outcome he wanted to achieve.
"I will say this, genes make a big difference," Galimore said. "I was definitely given some athletic prowess through my dad. My father left me with a great name that opened up a lot of doors, and I got to hear a lot of stories from people he had impacted during his life. That combined advantage helped me in gymnastics. I feel very fortunate, and I wish that I could thank him personally."
Ed Gagnier was Galimore's coach at Iowa State. During the three years Gagnier coached Ron, he viewed him as the most explosive gymnast he had ever seen or had the opportunity to coach.
"Ron was a fit gymnast," Gagnier said. "For starters, he had the muscular structure that no one else did, the unique ability to be able to explode in his performances. He seemed to be ahead of everybody else. He was so spectacular and could achieve such great height in his moves. It made him stand out."
While at Iowa State, Galimore enjoyed unprecedented success. Perhaps his most notable achievement was scoring a perfect 10 on the vault at the 1981 NCAA Championships. This feat marked the first time in NCAA history any athlete had reached the perfect plateau. Galimore did it in his final collegiate vault, which made it more remarkable.
"It just so happened that year that the competition was very fierce," Gagnier said. "The person in front of him had just scored a 9.9. Ron had to score a perfect vault to win. He did a flawless vault with a perfect landing."
Reminiscing about that day at the NCAA Championships, Galimore says it seemed like yesterday rather than 30 years ago. He vividly remembers the excitement as he stood on the runway for his final vault and the deafening noise of the crowd when his hit the perfect landing.
"I didn't really know what the score was going to be, but I don't think I could have done it much better than that," Galimore reflected. "Everybody was already jumping and excited and then when the score came up it just kind of sent us into a new stratosphere. It was just one of those moments in sports, like something out of a movie."
Galimore was a gifted all-around gymnast, but his signature event was the vault. He had a good chance to win an Olympic gold medal. U.S. President Jimmy Carter did not allow the U.S. to compete, boycotting the 1980 Moscow games. Nevertheless, Galimore was the first African-American to make a U.S. Gymnastics Olympic team.
"I had my goal set on making the Olympic team and winning a gold medal," Galimore said.
Galimore had a strong desire to compete and perform in front of people. When Gallimore was training to make the Olympics team, he wanted to put nothing short of 100 percent into his efforts so when it was all over he would have no regrets. At the Olympic Trials Galimore made it seem as if he was most comfortable with thousands of eyes focused on him.
"I didn't set out to be the first African-American to make the Olympic gymnastics team," Galimore said. "I set out to try and be the absolute best gymnast that I could be. There weren't a lot of black gymnasts when I first started. Many African-Americans would come up to me before and after the events to congratulate me. It made me feel like I was representing more than just myself. Making the Olympic team capped off a long journey. It allowed me to feel really good about everything I had done in the sport and all the sacrifices I made."
Galimore was a great athlete, and a great role model. Young people looked up to him and learned from him. Galimore says he runs into people today that tell him that he inspired them 30 years ago. He still gives them positive encouragement.
"I don't believe enough athletes in high-profile positions really understand the influence they can have on the young," Galimore stated. "A small, kind gesture or a few words to younger children can change lives."
Looking back the on the journey Galimore took and the accomplishments he achieved, he feels extremely blessed.
"When you get to the end of the road and you do something like make the Olympic team or win an Olympic medal, the reason you see athlete's breakdown in tears is because it has been a long journey to get there," Galimore noted. "Once you come to the end of your athletics career, you stop to look back at the places you've been and the things you have accomplished. That is when the memories become really meaningful."
Galimore reached the end of the road as a gymnast, but the impact he made as a competitor in the sport will never be forgotten. Today, he still finds ways to impact the sport he loves. He is the Chief Operating Office for USA Gymnastics. He is far from the end of that road.