The Miami native passed away on Friday 5 June, following a stroke, caused by a tear of the basilar artery in the brain stem.
“Yesterday I lost my universe, my best friend and my soul mate of twenty-four years. Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honoured to be his wife,” his wife Beckie Thomas told International Gymnast Magazine.
Thomas became known in the gymnastics world for his creativity and flair, and his legacy will live on in the sport through his signature “Thomas Flair” move on the pommel horse and the “Thomas Salto” on floor exercise.
The International Gymnastics Hall of Fame inductee competed at the Montreal 1976 Olympics, before winning the floor exercise gold medal at the 1978 world championships in France.
Two years later in Texas at the 1979 worlds, he successfully defended that title, and also added the horizontal bar gold medal to his mantle piece. These achievements saw him become the first gymnast to receive the James E. Sullivan Award for the best amateur athlete in the US that year.
“I am completely devastated to hear this”, said Olympic teammate Bart Conner. “Kurt was a fierce rival, who went on to become a cherished friend. My heart is breaking for his wife Beckie, his children, Hunter, Kassidy and Kurt as well as the entire gymnastics community, who lost a true pioneer today.”
Indiana State University scholar Thomas was one of the favourites to win gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but missed his chance when the United States boycotted the event.
At 36-years-old, he attempted a comeback in 1989 with a view to competing at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics, but did not proceed from the USA trials. In retirement he worked as a TV analyst and gymnastics coach in his home town of Texas.