The Summer Olympics of 1992 in Barcelona were full of great stories. It was the first Olympic games after the both the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, which led to many competing nations that hadn’t existed independently four years earlier. The United States joined the rest of the world in allowing professional basketball players to compete, turning the legendary Dream Team into reality. And, while all that was going on, the women’s gymnastics world was on an upswing that would continue throughout the 90s and even into future generations.
The star of that team going into the Olympics was Kim Zmeskal, a 4-foot 7 dynamo who took gold at the World Championships the year before. Even today, Zmeskal is remembered fondly for her contributions to American gymnastics, but she hasn’t competed since 2000. What has she been doing since then?
Kim Zmeskal – Early Life and Development
Like many people who go on to excel in their fields, Zmeskal started out young. Inspired by Mary Lou Retton and her legendary gold medal run in the 1984 Olympics, she would end up training in the same Houston gym under famed coach Bela Karolyi. She ascended quickly, taking the Junior National Championship at the age of 13 on her way to becoming a three-time US National Champion. In 1991 she became the first American woman to take the gold at the World Championships while helping the American team to a silver medal finish.
Zmeskal developed a memorable style full of personality, but she was perhaps best known for her explosive ability that came through in her tumbling and vaults. Power gymnastics was what led to her rapid ascension, and it arguably helped contribute to her downfall as well.
The 1992 Olympic Games
The 1992 Women’s Olympic gymnastics team came in expected to do well with the foundation of world champion Zmeskal and up-and-coming Shannon Miller, who defeated her at the Olympic Trials. Zmeskal struggled early on, though, falling off the balance beam and building a large score deficit after the first night of competition. At risk of failing to qualify for the all-around competition, she rebounded with top-notch performances on the uneven bars, vault, beam, and floor. The performances pushed her from 5th to 3rd on the American team and from 35th to 12th overall, qualifying her for the all-around competition.
Zmeskal would again fall short of the top in the all-around, finishing 10th after stepping out of bounds during her floor routine. Ultimately, the only medal Zmeskal would take in the Olympic games would be the American team bronze, a disappointment for many fans considering her run leading up to the Games. Although it was either unknown or unpublished during the Games, it would later come out that Zmeskal was fighting through a stress fracture in her ankle at the time. It would not be the last time her high hopes would be dashed by injury.
Injury and a Comeback
Gymnastics is a sport of explosive power and dangerous maneuvers, and Zmeskal was elite at some of the most dangerous moves. It is likely no coincidence that her gymnastics history is often interrupted with major injuries.
Eager to overcome a disappointing finish in Barcelona, Zmeskal was training in 1994 when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during a vault. The injury took her out of the picture for the 1996 Olympics, as an ACL tear takes around a year to recover and would leave her with too little time to improve in time to make the 1996 team. That 1996 team would feature four of her teammates from Barcelona — Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu, Shannon Miller and Kerri Strugg — and become the first American women’s team to take the team gold in the Olympics.
Zmeskal wouldn’t quit, though. She recovered enough to enter and compete in the 1998 US National Championships. While her comeback performance was respectable, it was clearly below what was necessary to return to the national team. Zmeskal considered this a stepping stone, though, a change in mentality from before when she felt like there was no point to competing if she couldn’t win. With her eyes on the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, she continued to train.
Those hopes fell apart in January of 2000 when she tore a muscle in her right leg on a back flip. It was the third injury of that leg in the previous year, following a torn Achilles tendon and a calf injury. With her ambitions for Sydney 2000 at an end and injuries accumulating, Zmeskal made the difficult choice to call it a career.
What’s Kim Zmeskal Doing Now In 2017 – Recent Updates
Shortly after Zmeskal’s retirement in 2000, she married Chris Burdette, a coach she had met during a clinic. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved back to her home state of Texas, where they would open a gymnastics training facility called Texas Dreams Gymnastics. At the end of her athletic career, it was only natural to continue her life’s work in the field she’d been a part of and loved since she was a child.
The venture has been quite successful: since its founding in 2001, the facility has helped produce several junior and collegiate qualifiers and champions, as well nine National Team members. The US Olympic Committee has recognized the gym, awarding Kim Zmeskal-Burdette the 2016 Developmental Coach of the Year Award. In the press release, they cite her development of Emma Malabuyo, who won the most international medals among US junior elite gymnasts, and Ragan Smith, a 2016 Olympic alternate who narrowly lost to Olympic veteran Gabby Douglas in her first senior elite performance. This award covers all Olympic sports, not just gymnastics, so it is an especially impressive accomplishment.
Kim somehow juggles raising the couple’s three children, coaching a new generation of top-level gymnasts, and an active social media presence. You can find her tweeting responses to fans or talking gymnastics with legendary gymnasts regularly. Speaking of legendary gymnasts, Zmeskal-Burdette herself was recognized for her remarkable career in 2012 with her election into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.