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24th Albany Sports Hall of Fame induction: Margot Todd Evans

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAIRO -- It was love at first sight.

"The minute I walked through the door, I fell in love with gymnastics,'' said Margot Todd Evans, who is arguably the greatest gymnast to ever come out of Albany.

It was almost 40 years ago when little Margot walked in the door at the old Albany YMCA and began a gymnastics journey that had as many twists, turns and back flips as her floor exercise.

Now, at the age of 46, she has landed with both feet back in Albany, where she will be inducted into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night at its 24th annual event.

"She accomplished so much as a gymnast,'' said Bob Fowler, the organization's president. "She was an All-American, an Olympic-caliber athlete. I don't think we have ever had anyone from Albany of that caliber.''

Simply put, Margot Todd Evans was the best gymnast Albany has ever known -- in a class by herself.

These days, she lives with her husband, Ron, in Cairo, where she has been teaching science at Cairo High School for the past 16 years. She said when she looks back at an incredible career that took her to Europe and back again, and to the near heights of her sport, what she clings to most is what it means to her today.

"As much as I loved gymnastics, what I take from it most is that I used my sport for the educational part,'' said Todd Evans, who has earned her Master's.

Todd Evans then added: "Even though I had a passion for my sport, I always knew I would get a good education. Kids need to know that. They need to know that if something happens and you get hurt, it could all end, and you need the education.''

Todd Evans knows that better than most.

The moment that still grips her is that infamous double backflip she performed in 1979 as she was preparing for a chance to make the 1980 Olympic team.

"I landed on the edge of the mat and broke my ankle, and that ended my Olympic dreams,'' she said.

As it turned out, the U.S.A. boycotted the 1980 Olympics, but even in 1984 her ankle wasn't strong enough for that competition.

Todd Evans, however, was good enough to win several All-American awards in college at Centenary (La.) during that stretch, and won three national titles in the vault and three national titles in floor exercise. She was an All-American all four years at Centenary, which was coached by former U.S. Olympic coach Vannie Edwards, who had arguably the best women's team in the country and turned the school into a national powerhouse.

Todd Evans is the only gymnast in Centenary history to be on three national title teams (the other one was the national runner-up) and to win six individual national titles. Her teammate Kathy Johnson, who won a bronze medal in 1984, was next with two national title teams and five individual titles.

Todd Evans met Edwards at a summer camp when she was 14, and she left Georgia to become a member of his elite junior team, which lived at a huge ranch house and trained with Edwards near Shreveport.

"There were about 25 girls there,'' she recalled. "We went to a private high school, and we left school about 1 in the afternoon and we would change into our gymnastic (uniforms) in the van on the way to the ranch house. We would train every day, and in the summer I would come back home to Albany.''

It was her life -- right from that first day at the YMCA.

"I was a very hyperactive kid who wasn't afraid of anything. Gymnastics was perfect for me,'' she said. "You have to be pretty brave to be a gymnast. You're flying in the air, and falling on your face. You have to be pretty determined. It has to be in you.

"You become a gymnast. You don't play at it.''

By the time she was 13, Todd was nationally ranked. She would walk a couple of miles a day from elementary school to the YMCA, but when her coach, Charles Doggett, left the YMCA, Todd didn't know what to do.

"The new coach was Bob Swadell, and later he became one of the best gymnastics coaches in the country,'' she said. "But that was his first year, and he was just learning.''

So she spent a year training in Atlanta, and met Edwards the following summer. Then she was off to Centenary in Shreveport, winning just about every award gymnastics offered. She finished second in the national all-around competition all four years, and still vividly remembers her last competition in 1984.

Todd was leading the competition and would have won, but when she looped around the uneven parallel bars she smashed her face on the bar.

"It was pretty tough,'' she said. "I almost broke my nose. But I knew I had to pick myself up and get back on the bar.''

That's how tough Todd Evans is. Consider this: She was an All-American all four years, including her senior year, which had to wait a year because she took off to give birth to her daughter, Amber, who is now a Registered Nurse in Maryland. Her son, Forrest, will graduate later this spring with a degree in engineering from Florida State.

Neither ever took up gymnastics.

Todd Evans coached gymnastics at Cairo for three years, but gave it up after she tore her Achilles and broke that same right ankle again while helping her team practice. The ankle probably cost her a trip to the Olympics in 1984, but other than that there's little to regret.

"I just loved it,'' she said. "My favorite was the vault and the floor exercise. I loved tumbling from the first time when I was 8 years old. And the vault? You're going full speed, then you're flying through the air ... I love it!''