As a youngster, Abie Grossfeld was a successful swimmer, diver and cyclist. He could high jump and long jump. He also played roller hockey.
But it was one day when the YMCA pool was closed that he discovered gymnastics and signed up for a class.
“I was always fascinated by circus acrobatics,” Grossfeld said. “I was a strong kid, and I learned quickly.”
Grossfeld was hooked. He went to the 1952 U.S. Olympic Trials. Although Grossfeld did not make the team for the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games, he was undeterred.
Grossfeld went to the University of Illinois and as a freshman qualified for the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games. He also participated in the Rome 1960 Olympic Games. Grossfeld did not win any Olympic Medals; his biggest success as an athletecame on the collegiate level (1958 NCAA all-around champion) and at the Pan American Games (eight gold medals and 15 medals total from the 1955, 1959 and 1963 games).
Grossfeld then got into coaching. He started the program at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and then moved to Southern Connecticut State University, where he coached for 41 years and led the Owls to three national championships.
Grossfeld also coached on the Olympic level, beginning as an assistant coach for the U.S. men’s team at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games and an assistant for his then-wife Muriel and the U.S. women’s team at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games. Grossfeld then was the U.S. men’s head coach at three more Olympic Games. It was at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games that Grossfeld enjoyed his biggest coaching victory, guiding the American team to its first team all-around gold medal since 1932.
“Abie was a great presence on the floor at the Olympic Games,” said Peter Vidmar, a member of the 1984 team. “He was very calm and reassuring when he coached. He had the perfect temperament for an event packed with pressure. He was outstanding. He’s got a very special place in my heart.
“He also had respect from the other countries as well. We would walk into a competition and he knew everybody. We were treated well because we were Abie’s team. That was really nice.”