Longtime Michigan coach, 1944 Olympian Loken Remembered
posted on 10/06/2011

© University of Michigan Athletic Department

By Colt Rosensweig

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Acaa Over 200 people came to celebrate the life of Newt Loken, the late head coach of the University of Michigan men's gymnastics team from its revival in 1948 until 1983, on Friday (Sept. 30). Loken passed this past summer in Eugene, Ore., and this weekend's celebration of his life in Ann Arbor, held at Michigan Stadium in the Jack Roth Stadium Club, was at his request.

Loken's enthusiastic, optimistic style of coaching led his teams to two national gymnastics titles, two national trampoline titles, and 12 Big Ten championships.

As a gymnast, Loken won the 1941 NCAA high bar title and the 1942 NCAA all-around crown. His athletic career culminated with a spread in LIFE magazine in May of 1942.

During World War II, Loken served as the athletic welfare officer on the U.S.S. Prince William, which was the only ship in the Navy with a trampoline on board. Due to the war, the Olympics were not held after 1936 until 1948. Loken would likely have competed for the United States in one of the skipped Olympics, and in 2002, he was named to the honorary 1944 U.S. Olympic squad.

The crowd on hand at Michigan Stadium told the story of Loken's far-reaching influence. It included gymnasts from that first team in 1948 all the way down to both the current men's and women's gymnastics teams. Loken had coached national team members and Olympians in his tenure at Michigan. Former colleagues from the professorial ranks at Michigan, Athletic Director Dave Brandon, Minnesota head coach Mike Burns, also added their remembrances of Loken.

Loken's recruitment of gymnasts at the time was revolutionary: sending numerous letters to coaches and gymnasts all over the country, all while coaching the gymnasts and cheerleaders, teaching classes in the physical education department, teaching dancing classes and raising his family.

For over 60 years, Loken was in attendance at every home meet in Ann Arbor and came to practice at least once a week after his retirement to congratulate the Wolverines on their most recent performances and offer encouragement.

Former athletes, coaches and many of Loken's peers from all over the country attended the celebration. Nigel Rothwell, one of Loken's former gymnasts, came from Switzerland for the celebration.

Following the ceremony in the Jack Roth Stadium Club, many continued to tell stories Loken into the night at a dinner also held in his honor.

Loken, 92, died on June 28, 2011, of natural causes.