Kurt Thomas earned All-America honors 13 times in his career….and was the James E. Sullivan award winner in 1979….as well as the 1979 Nissen Award (the “Heisman” of men’s gymnastics) awardee. He was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame in 2010.
Thomas became a member of the US Olympic team at the 1976 Summer Olympics….then in 1978, Thomas was the first American male gymnast to win a gold medal in floor exercise in a world championship. In 1979 he became the first gymnast to receive the James E. Sullivan Award for the best amateur athlete in the US….while earning six medals at the World Championships including gold on the horizontal bar and floor exercise….and silver in the all-around, parallel bars, and pommel horse. Coming off an impressive 1979 World Championship (6 medals)….he was a favorite to win a gold medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics….however, the games were boycotted by the United States government.
Two gymnastic moves were named for him….the Thomas Flair, a pommel horse move….and the Thomas salto….which was his signature skill on floor exercise….as a tucked 1.5 backward salto with 1.5 twist into a roll out….which is a difficult and dangerous skill even by today’s standards. The Thomas Flair on pommel horse….and then also performed on floor….was developed over years by several Pommel Horse specialists….however, in gymnastics, new moves are named in the gymnastics rule book after the gymnast who is the first to perform the move in international competition.