Feb. 15, 2010
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By Lindsay Douglas
IOWA CITY, Iowa — In 38 years as a gymnastics coach, Tom Dunn’s accomplishments will be tough to parallel. He’s pummeled the competition and set the bar high. Fair warning: you will be floored.
While Dunn has been bleeding black and gold, he has built quite the résumé. Dunn has had 23 top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships. He’s led the Hawkeyes to conference titles in 1986 and 1998, placing second nine times. He’s received impressive honors as coach of the year in 1998, College Gymnastics Association Central Region Coach of the Year, and co-coach of the year honors in 1997 and 2006, as well as Midwest Regional Coach of the Year honors in 1986.
For a man who has dedicated so much of his life to gymnastics, Dunn got started late. In high school he focused mostly on track.
“I read somewhere that gymnastics helped you with pole vaulting,” Dunn said.
Obviously his training took him above and beyond high school track and field. After taking up gymnastics, Dunn competed at Penn State, where continued to excel. He received two All-American honors and in 1971 earned the NCAA parallel bars title. He graduated with a master’s degree in history of sports and got his first job in coaching at the collegiate level at the University of Massachusetts.
“I was just lucky I guess,” Dunn said. “Right out of grad school, the Massachusetts coach was going to take a sabbatical and I was offered the job for a year. He ended up quitting.”
Dunn coached at UMass for three years as head coach before returning to Penn State as an assistant coach for four years. When a head coaching opportunity opened up at the University of Iowa, Dr. Gene Whelan recommended the transfer. Whelan competed for Dunn at both UMass and Penn State and went on to participate as a member of the 1976 Olympic team.
Dunn has also coached at the international level, competing in countries like Egypt, Switzerland, Barbados, Barcelona, and China. It was in Tjanjan, China, at the 1999 World Gymnastics Championships where Dunn first met Linas Gaveika who is currently a women’s gymnastics assistant coach at the University of Iowa.
“(Dunn) is always calm and in control,” Gaveika said. “He’s very reserved and he’s able to look at the big picture.”
Dunn explained that a lot has changed in the world of gymnastics in the past 38 years and that includes his job as a coach. The coach’s role includes more administrative work and recruiting now, said Dunn, who places high standards on the men he recruits — focusing on academics as well as athleticism.
“We are interested in guys that are serious about gymnastics and about grades,” Dunn said.
In his time as head coach at Iowa, Dunn has had 78 All-American scholars and 122 academic all-Big Ten selections. In 2000, the team won the College Gymnastics Association National Team Championship with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.378.
“We are looking for the team to be as successful as possible. It’s the NCAA and Big Ten championships that matter.”
In the 2009-10 season it seems the Hawkeyes’ record doesn’t reflect their improvements. With a young team — with 11 out of 18 underclassmen — they’ve competed against some of the best schools in the conference and have come close to winning. Dunn seemed pleased with a fourth-place finish at the Windy City Invite.
“We are looking for the team to be as successful as possible. It’s the NCAA and Big Ten championships that matter,” Dunn said.
He will be leaving a young team with the knowledge of a seasoned coach that will give it a platform to build on, because he will be retiring at the end of this season.
“He saw so many generations go through the program here and deserves the utmost respect,” Gaveika said. “It’s hard to predict what’s to come, but the program will certainly be missing out on his experience.”