Yes, the Olympic Games are over but contrary to popular belief, gymnastics does exist as a sport in the four years between Olympic Games and so whilst the eyes of the world have, for the most part shifted their focus from the beautiful sport of gymnastics, the gymnastics world has continued to tick over and this week was another busy one for the sport. Here is a quick roundup of the happenings of the gymnastics world this week.
1. Valeri Liukin named as USA Gymnastics Women’s National Team Co-Ordinator
Hardly a surprise to most gymnastics fans, Liukin took the developmental programme under his wing a few years back and has been working and developing the upcoming athletes who will be eligible for 2020 and beyond. So with that, it seemed only natural for him to take over for the infamous Martha Karolyi as she retires from her lengthy and successful coaching career. Liukin, who is a World and Olympic Champion himself is the co-owner of WOGA Gymnastics which has produced a plethora of world class gymnasts, namely 2004 Olympic Champion, Carly Patterson, 2008 Olympic Champion, Nastia Liukin, most recently, 2016 Olympic Gold and Silver medalist, Madison Kocian, 6 time World Championship medalist and US National Champion, Rebecca Bross, 2013 AT&T American Cup Champion, Katelyn Ohashi and 2014 World Championships gold medalist, Alyssa Baumann. Additionally WOGA has produced a number of junior and senior national team members and countless numbers of level 10 gymnasts who gain college scholarships to top Universities across the U.S year after year. It will be interesting to see how Liukin coaches the next generation of U.S. elite women as we now look towards Tokyo. I doubt much will change as the model Martha has set in place works, and is a well oiled machine but I suspect Valeri will have a different personal taste when it comes to picking teams than Martha did. Will that make an impact? Perhaps not, as it doesn’t all come down to him and his personal choice but a large portion of the decision of who goes onto teams was and will continue to be down to the choice of the National Team Co-Ordinator. Who knows, only time will tell. But for now, we must worry about who will design the leotards, the pink and purple that Martha loved so much may be no more. That choice, I suspect will be handed down to Rhonda Faehn, rather than Valeri.
2. The Kelloggs Tour kicked off in Spokane, Washington:
Ah yes, the tour of gymnastics champions that comes under fire every four years for being too expensive, too dangerous or filled with too many gymnasts doing too little gymnastics in too ugly costumes. But hey! who said gymnastics fans are hard to please? At the end of the day, the show is predominantly marketed for little gymnasts who aspire to be just like these superstars and could probably make their parents pay $100 to just sit in an empty room with Simone Biles. Additionally, these hardworking gymnasts who bust their butts for years have the time of their lives after all of their hard work. This is their reward. They get to travel across the country with their friends, perform every night (and make a lot of money for those who have gone pro). Yes, the safety is an issue (let’s not relive the 2012 tour over again) but i’m sure these gymnasts would complain or raise a concern should they feel in danger. Contrary to popular belief, gymnasts do have brains, they do have agency and they are not under the thumb of a controlling, overpowering coach who treats them like 6 year olds. Aly Raisman is 22, NASTIA IS 26 AND SHAWN IS MARRIED, I think they’re well equipped to notice problems and address them. The tour is marketed to feature the Final Five, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Jordyn Wieber, Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner and the men of Team USA… Sam Mikulak and company. Along with this, Olympic rhythmic and trampoline gymnasts will also come along for the ride. Not all of the Final Five appeared in Spokane for the first show. Missing was Madison Kocian who was in Texas performing a ceremonial scarfing of some statue!? I don’t really understand but what I do know is these girls are being run off their feet. Aly and Simone are back and forth between LA, New York,Colorado and Washington for various things like NY Fashion Week, recording Lip Sync battle with Olivia Munn and of course, tour rehearsals, Gabby Douglas just wrapped judging Miss America and Madison Kocian is half way between a cast member on the Keloggs tour and a student-athlete at UCLA. One minute she’s in California, enrolling in class and training with her college team and the next shes scarfing large statues in Texas or at tour rehearsals in Colorado. Topping it all off is Laurie Hernandez who is competing on Dancing With The Stars whilst also performing on the Keloggs Tour. I’m sorry, what!? Whilst she should probably be in California learning her routine for next weeks show, she’s performing in Spokane, unless Val, her partner travels with her which I know he did go to New Jersey with her to attend the wlecome home banquet MG Elite organised for her. Whatever the arrangement, I’m sure all the girls are loving life and will handle their busy schedules with great ease and continue to be amazing individuals who put everyone else to shame.
3. Dr. Larry Nassar accused of sexual abuse by two gymnasts:
Former doctor for the U.S. women’s national gymnastics team, Larry Nassar has been accused of sexual abuse by an unnamed member of the 2000 U.S. women’s Olympic team and gymnast, Rachael Denhollander. Following these allegations, more allegations have come from former patients of Dr. Nassar at Michigan State University where Dr. Nassar runs a practice.
After a turbulent time for USA Gymnastics with regards to sexual abuse, these allegations, whilst shocking due to the man in question being a man who I, personally thought of as a good man and a person with the best interests of the gymnasts firmly in focus, the fact that there is such abuse of power in this sport is no longer shocking.
We have witnessed recently Marvin Sharp, coach of 2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 World Champion, Bridget Sloan kill himself in a prison cell after accusations of abuse came from one of his gymnasts. In addition to this, just as the Olympic Games in Rio got underway, the Indianapolis Star published a damning report on USA Gymnastics and it’s failure to report cases of sexual assault to police on a number of occasions. To me, this certainly seems like the tip of the iceberg with regards to sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics. As we’ve already witnessed, more and more victims have continued to come forward with abuse allegations. As with the abuse within the Catholic Church, I suspect those numbers will only continue to rise and the issue may become bigger than anyone could imagine. The abuse within the Church was centered around an abuse of power, a culture of silence and a feeling of trust. To Cathloics, priests were the embodiment of God, there was a trust held within them and they were trusted with the care of children and to question their authority was blasphemous. And with that, silence was preferred over speaking the ugly truth.
I feel, we are seeing a similar situation within USA Gymnastics. To question a coach is not blasphemous but honestly, is it done that often? If a coach is going to get a child to be an Olympic Gold medalist, sometimes it is easier to look the other way. Sometimes, even large organisations like USA Gymnastics and the Catholic Church look the other way when one of their valued and respected members is accused of such a heinous act. Isn’t it easier to bury the ugly truth rather than address it and risk ruining the organisation that’s on top of the world quite literally. I’m sure Steve Penny is relishing the successful business that USA Gymnastics is, just as those at the top of the Catholic Church did as they witnessed Sunday mass draw in hundreds and hundreds of Church goers to churches across the world every week. Well, I think USA Gymnastics should consult with the Church on where burying the ugly truth got them. It is a slippery slope. As numbers dwindle and the belief and trust in the Catholic Church continues to drop, USA Gymnastics had better watch out and ensure that they make the gyms across America a safe place for parents to send their children, to participate in the best sport in the world. Sadly, often once wholehearted trust is instilled in someone and divine power is given to someone, that power and trust is sometimes exploited and abused, those in power must be questioned.
4: On a lighter note, Laurie Hernandez kicked off her bid for the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing With The Stars:
Dancing? Laurie Hernandez? What could possibly go wrong. Absolutely nothing, Laurie absolutely killed it as we knew she would. Of all the members of the Final Five, Laurie is absolutely the best match for the show that has become a tradition for at least one member of each of America’s women’s gymnastics teams following the Olympic Games when the world is still interested in them. Laurie, of course has always displayed sass and a wonderful dance ability in her floor routines and it seemed only right, following her announcement during the Games that she decided to go pro and sign with Sheryl Shade and forgo her NCAA eligibility and scholarship offer from the University of Florida. She shocked and impressed the gymnastics community with her floor exercise when she burst onto the elite scene in 2012 and continued to impress in 2013 when she really began her road to Rio, placing 2nd AA at P&G Championships as a tiny junior. The same thing happened in Rio when the world got to see Laurie’s sass and spunk on the floor exercise and the same thing happened to the American public on Monday night when they witnessed Laurie dance the Cha-Cha to Bonnie McKee’s ‘American Girl’ with partner, Val Chmerkovisky. It was a joy to watch, left her mother in tears, Laurie looked unbelievably happy and was just exquisite. Laurie is unstoppable.
5. Alexei Nemov’s Legends show was held in Moscow:
Olympic, World and European Champion and gymnastics legend, Alexei Nemov of Russia rounded up various Russian/ former Soviet Union legends for a celebration of all their achievements in the form of a huge show displaying their talents. In this show, veterans Oksana Chusovitina, Viktoria Komova and Svetlana Khorkina took part along with 2016 Olympic team members, Aliya Mustafina, Seda Tutkhalyan, Angelina Melnikova and Daria Spiridonova on the women’s side. It looked like a show not to be missed, even if the ultimate Russian queen, 20 time World medalist and 7 time Olympic medalist, Svetlana Khorkina wasn’t doing that much gymnastics due to the fact that she has been retired for over 10 years. But for the major gymnastics fans, it would be a delight to see Khorkina and the second coming of the Russian queen, Viktoria Komova performing together in one show.