#TBT Big Ten Medal of Honor - Abie Grossfeld 1959
March 27, 2014
One of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics, the Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." In 2014, the conference celebrates the 100th anniversary of this prestigious award.
Born in New York in 1934, Grossfeld was an excellent athlete in many sports from a young age. He won gold medals in two Junior Olympic Cycling Championships and also won the New York City 4 X 50 relay team title at Madison Square Garden in 1949. The same year, he won the Bronx High School high jump and standing long jump titles. Grossfeld was captain of his high school swim team, competing mostly in the 50 yard and 100 yard freestyle events but also helped the team as a diver. He swam and competed unattached in the NYC Boys' Swimming Championships, winning gold in the 100 and silver in diving in 1949. He put his swimming talent to use when he was 16 years old after he dove into an ice filled river in New York to save a drowning five-year old and was awarded the "New York Maritime Benevolent Association Medal" in 1951 for saving a human life in peril.
Grossfeld chose to pursue gymnastics out of state at the University of Illinois. As an Illini, he won four titles, three silver and three bronze medals at the NCAAs, finishing in the top three in 10 of 16 events (1957-59). At the Big Ten Championships he won seven gold medals (1957-59) and at the national AAU Championships he was the horizontal bar champion four times (1955-61).
Grossfeld was awarded the "Big Ten Medal of Honor" in 1959, when he was also voted the University of Illinois' first Olympic sports athlete for "Athlete of the Year." He completed his undergraduate studies at Illinois in 1960, and continued on to earn his master's degree from UI in 1962.
Grossfeld's success at Illinois helped him start competing for the United States while still in college. As a competitor, Grossfeld competed internationally for the United States for 15 years (1952-67). He competed in the World Championships in 1958, finishing seventh in the team competition and 53rd in the individual all-around. Four years later, Grossfeld again competed in the World Championships when the U.S. team placed sixth.
A two-time Olympian for the United States' men's gymnastics team, Grossfeld first competed at the 1956 Melbourne Games where the U.S. finished sixth overall in the team competition. Four years later, at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, the U.S. team finished fifth and Grossfeld placed 36th in the all-around.
He had more success at the Pan American Games, competing in 1955, 1959 and 1963. Overall, he won 15 medals (eight gold, including three for Horizontal Bar championships), including the gold in the individual all-around in 1959. His Horizontal Bar gold medal record of 1955 stood for 32 years until 1987.
Grossfeld also dominated the Maccabiah Games in 1953, 1957 (winning seven gold in seven events), and 1965, winning a combined 17 gold medals. He received the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique Master of Sports Award in 1960 and two years later he established the first gymnastics program at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
After retiring from international competition, Grossfeld turned to coaching. He was an assistant coach of the U.S. men's team for the 1964 Olympics and of the U.S. women's team for the 1968 games. He then became the head coach for Team U.S.A. and coached the American gymnasts at the 1972, 1984 and 1988 Olympics. His 1984 team, with Mitch Gaylord, won the Combined Exercises championship. He served as head coach of U.S. men's gymnastics team at five World Championships between 1966 and 1987, and head coach of the U.S. team at the Pan American Games in 1983 and 1987. In addition, he coached the U.S. gymnasts in three Maccabiah Games: 1973, 1977 (men and women) and 1981. His 1981 squad won three team gold medals and he led the squad to its first ever victory over the USSR in 1982.
Grossfeld coached four Nissen Award winners (gymnastics equivalent to football's Heisman Trophy), three NCAA Division II championship teams, 10 consecutive Eastern Collegiate Conference team championships (1975-84) and 148 gymnasts who achieved All-American status. He was chosen NCAA National Coach of the Year three times (1973, 1975 and 1976), was elected to the United States Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1979 and was named Gymnastics Federation Coach of the Year in 1984. During this time, he also became a professor of physical education and became a collegiate gymnastics coach. He spent one year at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and 41 years at Southern Connecticut State University starting in 1963, helping the program become one of the best in the country.
Grossfeld is a member of the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame as an athlete, coach and contributor. He has been an International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) Brevet judge, which is the highest international certification, since 1969. Most recently Grossfeld was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. To recognize his greatness in the sport of gymnastics, the Abie Grossfeld Invitation Gymnastics Meet is held each year at the University of Bridgeport in Bridgeport, CT and is sponsored by In-Flight Gymnastics. Grossfeld left his mark at Illinois and continued on to make a difference and make history for men's gymnastics in the world.
Connecticut continues to honor Grossfeld for his contribution and achievements in the sport of gymnastics by establishing the Abie Grossfeld Coach Scholarship Fund. The Scholarship Fund was established to support the training of gymnasts and scholars in both men's and women's gymnastics for USA Gymnastics Region VI. Its mission is to provide academic scholarships for high school gymnasts who plan on attending a college or university of their choice and awards a total of two $1,000 scholarships to graduating gymnasts in Region VI; one male gymnast and one female gymnast.
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