Stacey Gunthorpe (USA)

Stacey Gunthorpe at the 1988 U.S. Nationals Photo used with the expressed 
permission of Dave Black

1982 Capitol Cup: 1st AA, 1st FX
1982 US Classic (Juniors): 19th AA
1982 US Nationals (Juniors): 31st AA
1983 American Classic (Juniors): 2nd AA
1983 US Nationals (Juniors): 10th AA
1983 International Japan Juniors (Tokyo): 21st AA
1983 International Japan Juniors (Sendai): 3rd V
1984 US Nationals (Juniors): 21st AA
1985 American Classic: 6th AA, 4th UB, 6th FX
1985 US Nationals: 8th AA, 5th UB, 7th BB
1985 USA vs CHN: (competed UB, BB only)
1986 American Classic: 4th AA, 29th V, 4th UB, 6th BB, 8th FX
1986 USA vs USSR: 2nd T, 5th AA
1987 American Classic: 9th AA
1987 US Nationals: 7th AA
1987 Pan Am Games (alternate)
1987 World Championships (alternate)
1988 American Classic: 9th AA
1988 US Nationals: 5th AA, 3rd V (tie), 2nd UB
1988 US Olympic Trials: 11th AA

The following article first appeared in the March/April 2003 issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Everything felt right at the 1986 USA vs. USSR dual meet, and it showed in her scores. At the end of the meet, a very satisfied Stacey Gunthorpe saw that she was the highest placing American. In front of her extended family, on home turf in America, Stacey had announced herself as a major contender in the sport of women’s gymnastics. One of Bela Karolyi’s new hopes, Stacey found herself on NBC’s Today Show being praised by the legendary coach. “She’s an excellent tumbler, [with] probably the most ideal body type I’ve ever seen in gymnastics – very light, very tiny, but powerful…even more explosive than Nadia. She’s number one in the country, no question about it.”

Stacey’s parents saw talent in their daughter, who loved tumbling on their front lawn with her best friend. They enrolled Stacey in several local gymnastics programs, and watched their daughter thrive. Then, Stacey placed second at the 1983 American Classic and found herself on the roster for the prestigious International Japan Junior Invitational.

A local HMO soon offered to sponsor Stacey in her quest for the Olympics, its funds allowing Stacey to move to Houston and train under Bela Karolyi. Stacey jumped at the chance. “I remember being a bit star-struck, because Mary Lou Retton, Julianne McNamara, and Dianne Durham were there training.”

The training was rigorous under Karolyi, and Stacey was plagued by many injuries. Competing at the 1985 Maccabiah Games trials (Stacey’s Jewish background traces back to her maternal grandparents, who escaped from Germany during the Holocaust), she felt a pop in her knee during a vault timer. With a huge lead under her belt from the first day of competition, Stacey was invited to compete at the Maccabiah Games despite withdrawing from the trials. She and Bela decided to compete at a USA vs. China meet instead, where the same knee kept locking. Stacey spent the remaining of the year recovering from surgery on the knee.

Missy Marlow, Stacey Gunthorpe, and Hope Spivey during the opening of the 1986 USA vs USSR. Photo courtesy of Tom Theobald

Stacey placed fourth in one of her first meets back, the 1986 American Classic. Her reward was a spot in the lineup for the upcoming USA vs. USSR dual meet. “USA vs. USSR was very exciting. I had family there who had never seen me perform live. My family sacrificed so much for me, and it was nice to show that something good was coming out of it.”

Stacey focused ahead to the upcoming U.S. National Championships, but fell victim to a pulled hamstring and torn knee cartilage in her weak knee. “It was a physical therapist who talked to my parents and told them that continuing to train was not a wise idea. We were planning to continue, and Bela was all for it. If you didn’t compete at Nationals, you didn’t get a ranking.” Stacey resigned herself to not competing, and went in for a second arthroscopic surgery.

When Stacey returned to gymnastics she trained with Gizi Oltean, a former coach from Karolyi’s who had opened her own club in the Houston area. Yearning for elite teammates for support and day-to-day competition, in 1987 Stacey moved to California to train under Don Peters. “SCATS was a very good place for me to be. I think it was a much more nurturing environment than Karolyi’s.”

Essence magazine was founded as a forum for African-American women to address lifestyle issues. Stacey was featured in their September 1988 issue, and again in their book Essence: 25 Years Celebrating Black Women

Stacey worked hard to make the Pan Am Games and World Championships teams that year, and her body cooperated. Ranked seventh in the USA that year, Stacey was the first alternate for both teams. When Hope Spivey became injured and couldn’t travel with the team, the USGF’s rules stipulated that Stacey move from first alternate to the sixth gymnast on the floor. Instead, an unranked gymnast was selected to fill the position. Stacey found the events surrounding the World Championships especially difficult to understand and accept.

Stacey proved her value at the 1988 U.S. National Championships, placing 5th overall with a new double layout on floor and a double front off bars. Stacey admits that she just “fell apart” at the Olympic trials that followed. “In terms of technique, SCATS was definitely better. I learned how to swing bars there, not muscle them. But one downfall was that we didn’t work out nearly as many hours as at Karolyi’s, and that left me feeling really unprepared. Olympic trials was a lot of pressure – too much.”

“Whenever I tell people about my career, I describe it as bitter sweet. When I quit gymnastics it was definitely more bitter than sweet. Now I look back more objectively, and see more positive things.”

The Gunthorpe family was waiting for Stacey when she returned from Trials. Years before, the family made a pact to move wherever Stacey happened to be training in her last year before the Olympics. "As you might imagine, the daily rigors I faced in preparing for the Olympic Trials created levels of stress and anxiety far greater than you might encounter in the average teenager's home. These pressures affected all of my family members. Despite this additional tension, I greatly appreciated having my family nearby. My parents saw a talent in me, much the way I think most of these parents do. They wanted to make sure they gave me every opportunity to succeed so that I wouldn't have any regrets. As a teenager, I didn't always understand the rationale behind the decisions my parents made regarding my gymnastics career, but now as an adult, I am grateful for everything they did for me."

Stacey was ready to quit after the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials, but did “feel a little torn, because that’s not how I wanted to end my career.” The desire to be a “normal kid” won out, and the family returned home to New Jersey. She graduated high school and studied history at Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

In 1998 Stacey enrolled in a Master’s program in Counseling at Northwestern, but it “just wasn’t meant to be.” She returned to El Paso, Texas, where husband Ray was working for the El Paso Independent School District and writing his dissertation. (Ray has a doctorate in education from Harvard).

Stacey and Ray

Stacey met Ray in 1988, when her brother Kevin brought Ray, his college roommate, to cheer on Stacey at the U.S. National Championships. “I actually don’t remember that encounter,” Stacey confesses, “but Ray always jokes about how I looked like a 12-year-old boy at the time. I tell him that little did he know he’d marry that 12-year-old boy some day!”

Stacey and Ray now live in San Antonio, Texas. Stacey eventually went back to school for a Master’s in Community Counseling and in December 2002 received her National Certified Counselor certificate. Many family and friends were present at her graduation party, including former U.S. National team member Robin Carter, who recently graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration.

“Education is something that was very big in my family, so that’s something I always knew I would be doing, even if I turned into a Mary Lou and got all sorts of endorsements.”

Stacey’s certificate, along with the licensure she’ll obtain, will allow her to work with families, couples, individuals, and groups. She doesn’t yet know how she will specialize, but has some hope that she might be able to help gymnasts make the often difficult transition from elite competitor to “normal” life. “When I retired from gymnastics I didn’t have anybody to talk to,” Stacey confides. “I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I know it’s not a unique position to be in.”

Alyssa at 9 months

Gymnastics is still a big part of Stacey’s life, and she is considering earning a judging certificate in her spare time. But with a new baby on the way, she might not have much spare time after the baby’s birth in July. Ray and Stacey are thrilled to be pregnant, and “definitely plan on finding out the baby’s gender as long as the baby cooperates!”

Author's note: Since the above article was published, Stacey gave birth to a healthy, happy baby girl. Alyssa was born July 10, 2003 weighing in at close to 7 lbs.

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