Hartford, Conn. — As a boy, Ron Galimore enjoyed a typical diet of football, basketball, and other popular American sports. He even had more motivation and opportunity than most youngsters to follow such traditional paths, for his father, Willie, had been a famous pro football star. But from an early age Ron had other ideas, and now he has carved his own niche in an entirely different spherre of athletic activity -- gymnastics.
Looking back now, it's hard to imagine how it all came about. In the pre-Kurt Thomas days when Ron was growing up, men's gymnastics had virtually no following anywhere in the United States. This was particularly true in the black community, where the high expense and the need for elaborate facilities were two prohibitive stikes against it for the vast majority of families.
Even in childhood, however, Ron showed an inclination toward gymnastic and acrobatic moves, plus a refusal to be programmed into somebody else's role -- a combination that turned out to be fortuitous both for him and the sport. As an athlete, the lithe, powerful Iowa State senior has a combination of charisma and explosive routines that could well provide the next big impetus for gymnastics int his country. And as the first black Olympian in a white-dominated sport, he could play a big role in breaking down racial barriers as well.
Galimore was the star performer for the US men in an international meet held here last weekend among 11 nations that had boycotted the Moscow Olympics. He finished fifth in the all-around competition, took third in the floor exercise, and, to the surprise of no one, won the gold medal in the vault.
"Ron is the best vaulter in the world right now," boasted his coach, Francis Allen. "He has the potential for a 10 anytime he goes out there. There's no question that he would have had a good chance for the gold in the Olympics."
Galimore was disappointed, of course, that he didn't get his chance, but he doesn't dwell on it or seem bitter. He says it's too early, though, even to begin contemplating whether he'll still be competing in 1984. For now he just wants to keep proving in competitions like this one that he belongs up there with the world's elite.
"This meet doesn't take the place of the Olympics," he said of the competition among Japan's 1976 champions, the newly emerging Chinese powerhouse, the United States, and eight other countries. "I don't think anything could do that. But if this is as close as I'm going to come, I want to show that I'm of that caliber."
Ron certainly accomplished that, as did Marcia Frederick in winning the vault and finishing a very close second in the women's all-around competition, while China dominated the meet as a whole by capturing both team championships and the major individual titles as well.
It was back in 1964, when Ron was only five years old, that his father, a star running back with the Chicago Bears, was killed in an automobile accident. His mother moved the family back to their hometown, Tallahassee, Fla., and eventually got the gymnastics ball rolling by putting Ron in a children's program called the Tallahassee Tumbling Tots. For several years he continued to play various team sports as well, but little by little he realized that gymnastics was really his first athletic love.
"I played Peewee football and JV basketball, and I was on the varsity track team in high school," he recalled. "It was a lot of fun, but more and more I just liked the idea of gymnastics better."
Although he is relatively small for some other sports at 5 ft. 7 in. and 153 pounds, he said his size wasn't really a factor.
"I did a little bit of everything in football -- quarterback, running back, defensive back," he said. "I could have played in high school. But sometimes you get the feeling that other people aren't putting out, and you tend to blame things on somebody else. 'If he hadn't fumbled,' or 'If he hadn't dropped that pass.' Things like that. But in gymnastics there's none of that. You know it's always up to you -- it's just you out there against the apparatus."
Unlike the show biz-oriented women's gymnastics scene, with its emphasis on "cuteness" and the resulting success of so many tiny 14-and 15-year-olds, the men's version of the sport is a much more rugged and athletic endeavor, where victory seldom comes until a competitor is fully developed in size, strenght, and skills.
Galimore competed for the United States in the world university games in 1977 , but it wasn't until the last couple of years that he really came into his own on the national scene. He has now won several NCAA and US Gymnastics Federation titles in the vault and floor exercise, and then of course capped things by making the Olympic team and by scoring so well in this latest meet.
As for what lies ahead, that's up in the air right now for this articulate young man, who is going into his final undergraduate year as a speech and communications major.
"I'm only going to think one year at a time," he said. "I've been in the sport 10 years now. My long-range goal was to make the Olympic team, and I've done that. Now I just want to wait and see. I look forward to competing in the next world championships in 1981 if I'm still around. Anything beyond that is too far to look right now."