Gymnast Fred Richard: ‘My goal is gold’
“To be young, gifted and Black,” words from Nina Simone’s legendary song, are fitting to describe Fred Richard, a gymnast on the U.S. national team. Richard, raised in Stoughton, Massachusetts, became at 19 the youngest male in American history to win a bronze medal in gymnastics Oct. 5 at the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium.
Along with 20-year-old Khoi Young, Richard helped anchor a U.S. team that captured bronze, setting the stage for a possible medal at the Olympic Games in Paris next year.
Richard has been a distinguished figure in gymnastics since his youth. His parents, Ann-Marie and Carl, saw both the potential and danger of having a very young child who was jumping and flying around their house.
“His energy level was so high I prayed all the time that he would not hurt himself. I prayed a lot in those days,” Ann-Marie said.
Her son Fred puts it a different way: “She yelled a lot, too!”
Carl and Ann-Marie decided to put their child in a structured gymnastics environment to keep him occupied and out of hospital emergency rooms.
“Our earliest memory is of Fred doing complete handstands in his crib with his pacifier in his mouth at less than 2 years old. He constantly flipped out of his crib and was just always upside down,” she said. “When he was about 6, he would turn a bucket upside down in the living room to practice his pummel horse skills and do constant pull-ups on my husband’s iron gym in the doorway, flipping backwards to dismount.”
Any parent who has a child in gymnastics knows the high cost of the sport. Carl and Ann-Marie went a greater distance by putting two children, older daughter Alexandra and Fred, into a program under the tutelage of Coach Tom Fontecchio.
The coach knew immediately that in Fred he had a special student and recalled thinking, “If he stays healthy, he should be a very good college gymnast, or maybe go further.”
Fontecchio was wise enough to see that his young prodigy needed superior technical training, so he sent the Richard family to Yuan Xiao, one of the top gymnastics coaches in the United States. Xiao currently coaches Fred Richard at the University of Michigan.
Carl Richard points to his son being self-motivated and driven by his own passion to succeed: “Every coach that my son has had can quickly see that he is completely focused on his task of becoming a great gymnast. Our family’s job is to support him in pursuing his dream. I left my job at Tufts University and started my own business so that I could spend more time with my son.”
Both parents have attended every one of Fred’s competitions, except for a trip to China. The entire family knows the importance of their presence when Fred is competing.
“He needs to know we are there. Being a young African American male can be a daunting task, especially in an environment where there are so few Blacks. And by being with our son we can help guide and protect him from rumors and other negative things that are out there,” Carl said.
But achieving greatness still comes down to skill, and Fred Richard is blessed with an abundance of that. At 19, he became the youngest ever to win an all-around NCAA title. He stepped up in international competition with his bronze-medal performance in the World Championships.
This mature, well-spoken young man has a grasp on what he has accomplished and the challenges that lie ahead as he gets ready for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
When questioned about the pressure of being in the Olympics with millions of people watching, Fred replied: “I feel no pressure going into the Olympic Games in Paris. I have been doing gymnastics since I was a young child. It is all about my work ethic and executing my skill when the time calls for it. My family has supported me in my dream of being a great gymnast since I was a toddler. Being the product of a stable home with two loving parents has been a key to my success. I want success in Paris as much for them as I want it for myself.”
Fred is traveling on a singular path to what could be an honored place in U.S. gymnastics history. Way back in 1964, a young man named Sid Oglesby, a senior at Syracuse University, took top honors on the long horse at the NCAA Championships in Los Angeles, making him the first Black gymnast to win an NCAA title. Oglesby also distinguished himself through activism, during his athletic career and afterwards.
Fred Richard has already taken his first step to athletic glory by being an NCAA champion and a bronze medal winner in international competition at just 19.
“It is exciting to lead the way for Black male gymnasts at this time. The challenge is great, but I am up for it,” he said. “I have been doing gymnastics since I was a baby. It’s time for me to put my talents on the world stage and that means going to the 2024 summer Olympic Games in Paris with one focus: My goal is gold.”