THE FIGHTING SPIRIT OF WENDY HILLIARD By Susan Santz
here is a fighting spirit that lives in all athletes; in rhythmic gymnastics, Wendy Hilliard owns such a spirit. Having been affiliated with rhythmic gymnastics since she made the switch from artistic in 1977 , Hilliard's name has become synonymous with the sport. Her advancement through the rhythmic ranks came at a rapid pace. In 1977, Zina Mironov coached her to a berth in the national championships just months after she had taken up the relatively unknown sport. In 1978, Hilliard became the first black U.S. rhythmic national team member while qualifying for the Pan Pacific Games' group routine (now known as the Four Continents Championships). For the next three years, Hilliard occupied a spot on the national team as an individual competitor as well as a group routine member. During this span she competed in London for the 1979 World Championships, Rio de J anerio for the Four Conti nents, and
Munich as an individual alternate for the 1981 World Championships. But in 1981, Hilliard received her biggest boost in rhythmic gymnastics - not in the form of a competition, but in training. Hilliard, and Detroit Metro teammate Michelle Berube, spent six weeks training with the Bulgarians. The abundance of creativity which transpired through the coaches and the gymnasts inspired the two Americans. "The Bulgarians are so innovative," said Hilliard. "That's what I try to portray in my routines." In 1982, Hilliard took a year off from the sport to travel with a gymnastics troope gathered by Kurt Thomas. She, and future Olympian
Mitch Gaylord, received permission from the United States Gymnastics Federation to retain their amateur status while with the tour. But the desire to compete was too great, and Hilliard rejoined the national team in 1983, breaking into the top 10. Even though Hilliard's bid for a 1984 Olympic berth fell short, she did serve in an official capacity at the Games. She provided gymnastics television commentators, Cathy Rigby and Gordon Maddox, with background information on rhythmic gymnastics during the competition. After the Games, she participted in the Medalist Tour. Then, along with Kathy Johnson and Gaylord, she
toured the nation's shopping malls performing in lecture demonstrations. But the shopping mall tour kept her from competing in the national championships and, in September of 1985, she decided once more to rejoin competitive rhythmic gymnastics. So, in hopes of improving her standing, Hilliard returned to Bulgaria to train with World Champion Diliana Gueorguieva and Lilia Ignatova. The atmosphere did her good. While there, she participated in an international meet with rhythmic strongholds Poland and Czechoslovakia, placing third in every event including all-around. She was also voted "Favorite Gymnast" by her peers. Her career continues as she again qualified for the national team in 1986. Her latest path hasn't been without some rocks which have left Hilliard weary of rhythmics. But, as she has shown time and time again, Hilliard's spirit is a fighting one, and when the chips are down , she's sure to come fighting back.