The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 5 among women:
Name: Kathy Gleason-Jachter.
High school: Lafayette.
Career overview: Gleason is the only Western New Yorker ever to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, the only one to compete for the United States at the World Gymnastics Championships and the only one in the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She won a U.S. Junior National title in 1965, then burst onto the senior national scene by placing third in the vault at the 1966 AAU national championships. That got her into the World Championships at Dortmund, Germany, where she helped the U.S. to a sixth-place finish. She was 33rd out of 156 in the all-around event. Gleason had a big year in 1967. She was fifth all-around at the World University Games in Tokyo. She won team gold and uneven bars bronze at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg. At the AAU national championships, she was fourth all-around and third in three events (vault, bars and beam). The 1968 season was even better. She won gold in the uneven bars and vault at the North American Championships in Chicago. At the AAU nationals she was third in the all-around. Then came the Olympic Trials in Long Beach, Calif., where she finished second all-around to secure her spot on the six-woman team. At the Mexico City Olympics, she was the top U.S. gymnast in the vault and helped the Americans to a sixth-place finish, better than the previous four Olympics. She capped her career by winning the national collegiate all-around title at Penn State in 1971.
Update: Gleason-Jachter and her husband, Howard Jachter, are retired and live in Sudden Valley, Wash. After college, Gleason-Jachter coached gymnastics for more than a decade, and the Gleason School of Gymnastics that she founded with her sister and brother-in-law still is in operation in North Tonawanda.
No to ballet: “My mother wanted me to be a prima ballerina,” Gleason-Jachter said. “That was her desire, and I did dance for a few years. It was kind of boring and restrictive. My father was very athletic, and he didn’t want me to become too musclebound, so he said why don’t we try gymnastics. I just loved it. There was only one club in Buffalo at the time, the Buffalo Turn Verein, a German club, so I started lessons there.”
Trail-blazing: “This was before Title IX,” Gleason-Jachter said. “All my girlfriends at school were not sports-minded at all. They thought I was a snake with eight heads. They were incredulous. Why does she want to work so hard at a sport? In high school the only athletics open was cheerleading.”
Mentors: Gleason’s career was boosted by 1964 Olympian Marie Bilski and Muriel Grossfeld, a three-time U.S. Olympian who would become the 1968 U.S. team coach.
“They saw me at my first nationals and said you have a lot of talent,” Gleason-Jachter said. “They invited me to train with them, which was incredibly generous. I went one whole summer with Marie in Ohio, and Muriel had camps all over and invited me to train with her. They pretty much taught me the fine points of Olympic competition.”
Clutch: Gleason-Jachter said the Olympic Trials was the most pressure-filled event of her career.
“It was a lot more pressure than the Games themselves because you want to be on the team,” she said. “At the Olympics, everybody hit their routines. We worked eight hours a day, seven days a week at our training camp. By the time we got to the meet, it was like just one more routine to do. Muriel kept saying to us, we’re going to come in sixth, because back then the top six teams got to go to all the technical meetings to learn what the judges were looking for. We were really very, very happy with the showing.”
Black Power: The ’68 Olympics included a famous medal-stand protest by U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised black-gloved fists to draw attention to racism in the United States.
“We did train with the track and field team at Lake Tahoe before the Olympics, and we got to know some of them,” Gleason-Jachter said. “I had very mixed emotions about the black glove and the fist. I felt politics should not be in the Olympics. However, this was their venue to express their disappointment in their treatment. These young men had worked so hard. I really felt they had a valid point. Muriel told me she voted not to send them home, and I was happy about that.”
All-around talent: “The funny thing about me was I’m not sure you could say I had one great event, but I was very good in all of them,” Gleason-Jachter said. “It seemed to be a recurring theme when I competed that one girl was great in floor exercise or bars or vault. But I won the all-around because I was right behind them in every event.”