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Frank Bare Reflects on USA Gymnastics' History
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As USA Gymnastics celebrates its 10th annual National Gymnastics Day, its first leader is having a birthday. Frank Bare turns 78 today, and he spoke with IG about the humble yet productive beginnings of what has become an extremely successful sports federation.

Frustrated by how gymnastics was being treated by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in the early 1960s, several U.S. collegiate gymnastics coaches decided their sport needed its own national federation. Eventually, during a 1963 meeting in Los Angeles, they asked Bare, the 1952 NCAA pommel horse champion (Illinois), to become executive director of the yet-to-be-formed U.S. Gymnastics Federation (USGF).

Bare laughs today when asked if he felt a little like Republican vice president nominee Sarah Palin. "I don't know if I was qualified or not, but I know that I cared about the sport. I had been involved in it since I was 14," he says. "So I went home (to Arizona) and said, 'I'm director of an organization that doesn't exist. It has no stationery, no envelopes, no telephone, no office, so I guess we have to build one.'"

Bare didn't need much to do great things. He converted a room off the kitchen of his Tucson home and made an office. He accepted a used desk from Sam Bailie, the coach at Arizona at the time. "He called and said some student had gotten mad and kicked the front of a desk in," Bare recalls with a laugh.

Bare's next goal was to kick the AAU out of power, but it wouldn't be easy. "The Olympic Committee told me they recognized the AAU because they were a member of the FIG," Bare says. "The FIG (said) they recognized the AAU because they were a member of the Olympic Committee."

Bare looked outside the U.S. to gain some leverage. Eventually, he won the favor of FIG President Arthur Gander, who understood the plight of the USGF's struggle with the AAU. At the 1970 World Championships in Ljubljana, the USGF was voted in as the new official governing body for U.S. gymnastics.

The sport grew quickly in the U.S. Bare invited the USSR gymnastics team, which toured the country to packed arenas. He held the first American Cup in 1976, in Madison Square Garden. "We had 34,000 paid over two days," says Bare, who also secured the bid to host the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

"When I left the USGF (in 1980) we had a building of our own and we had a half a million bucks in the bank," he says with pride. The USGF, now called USA Gymnastics, has had five presidents since: Roger Counsil, Mike Jacki, Kathy Scanlan, Bob Colarossi and Steve Penny.

Bare, meanwhile, has stayed involved with the sport through the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, for which he serves as chairman of the Board of Directors. For the past several years he has battled the debilitating effects of Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a rare degenerative disease that keeps him bound to a wheelchair at his home in Mesquite, Nev. Though he depends on his wife, Linda, for much of life's daily chores, Bare's mind and spirit remain intact. And when he watches the success of the American gymnasts, such as at the Beijing Olympics, does Bare feel a sense of pride?

"Oh, absolutely," he says. "But sometimes, I have to confess, that I look at it and I think the kids who are doing so well now, bless their hearts, don't have any idea where it came from."

Though it officially began in his kitchen in Tucson, Bare is quick to deflect credit to the numerous coaches who helped form the USGF. It was a total group effort.

"As long as it grew and prospered, that's what counts," Bare says.

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