Debbie Willcox – 1976

She had taken up gymnastics just four years earlier, but the skills she had acquired served Debbie well in 1976.

Obviously a quick learner, she already was a Top 10 finisher in the Elite Class of U.S. Gymnastics Federation competition and had competed with the fourth-place U.S. team in the 1975 Pan-American Games.

At the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, however, the Littleton High School senior played a major role in upgrading her nation’s international gymnastics image by finishing 10 places higher than any previous U.S. gymnast in Olympic competition. Against the best gymnasts the world had to offer, at the peak of their competitive form, Debbie scored a 9.6 on vault, 9.5 on floor exercise, 9.45 on uneven parallel bars and 9.25 on balance beam for an 18th-place, 37.80-point all-around total in a history­ making competition pitting the traditionalist Russians against the new-school Romanians.

The meet at the Montreal Forum, which marked the demise of Olga Korbut and ascendancy of Nadia Comaneci, will be remembered not only as the first to record a perfect 10.0 Olympic score, but also the first to showcase a consistently competitive U.S. performance.

Debbie got to Montreal by placing fourth in individual Olympic qualifying and winning a U.S. vs. Canada dual-meet all-around title in Olympic team qualifying. In addition to her Olympic accomplishments, the 17-year-old won the 1976 South Africa Cup championship, finished third behind Nadia and another Romanian in the all-around standings of a qualifying meet at Tucson, repeated as USGF national uneven bars champion and maintained her Top 10 status in Elite Masters national competition.

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