This weeks gymnastics news that happened off the mat!
1. Larry Nassar arrested and charged with child sexual abuse:
If you have followed gymnastics, and in particular American gymnastics for any length of time in the last 20 years, you will know who Larry Nassar is. And if you have followed gymnastics in recent months you will know that Dr. Nassar has been subject to several allegations by former patients and gymnasts claiming sexual misconduct whilst in his care whilst they were underage. The allegations came after an Indy Star report was published, just days before the Olympic Games got underway in Rio that claimed USA Gymnastics had systematically ignored and failed to report to authorities several allegations made by gymnasts and parents regarding sexual abuse by coaches and USA Gymnastics members. This came after Marvin Sharp, coach of 2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 World Champion, Bridget Sloan was found hung in his jail cell after being arrested and charged with child sexual assault.
In a world where allegations about adults taking advantage of minors in their care is becoming the norm, I am sad to say I am not surprised that sexual abuse within the sport of gymnastics is so rampant. It is somewhat of a perfect storm, a sport that is largely made up of young, underage children where the promise of fame and Olympic glory is dangled in front of their and their parents faces from early on, should their child show any semblance of talent for the sport. Quickly, the race to the Olympic podium becomes all consuming and most of the time, even if the parents aren’t hell bent on making their child an Olympic Champion, they will try to give their child every opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential in the sport. Usually, to reach that full potential comes an increased time commitment and travel, usually with a coach or other trusted members of the gym or organisation. Children find themselves making increasing commitments to make themselves better gymnasts, whether that be physical therapy sessions, extra strength training, extra dance training, training camps etc etc and whilst parents want to be there for their child, this increased time commitment is impossible to keep up with and therefore, gymnasts often find themselves travelling and doing things with coaches and other trusted people within their sport. And that is exactly what they are, trusted. No parent, no good intentioned person wants to believe that someone would abuse that trust placed in them to do right by a child. But the sad truth is that it is becoming increasingly apparent, with allegations rampant in the world of English soccer as of late and of course the Catholic Church scandal that abuse of trust within large organisations with a high concentration of children is just something that has happened in the past when people, often were too naive to know that this could happen and it’s still happening now, when noone is naive to these things but just believe that it could never happen to them, or their child or just simply do not want to believe that these things still happen.
I have previously ranted about this and still am, evidently upset by this. Mainly, I suppose because during Dr. Nassar’s time as USA Gymnastics team doctor, he was hailed by gymnasts as the saviour of the team by Olympians such as Kyla Ross because he kept them in one piece. He seemed, to me, like he was a good guy, a nice guy, someone who I really admired. He had a family, he had kids, he had a great position at USA Gymnastics, along with a highly respected position at Michigan State University, was involved in his local community, the local schools and ran charity events. In interviews, he seemed to really care about the athletes. He seemed like the quintessential upstanding citizen. So I guess it really hit hard that you cannot trust anyone. Whilst his lawyer has argued that this is simply a misunderstanding, the fact that he has now been officially arrested and charged with three counts of sexual abuse and placed under a $1 million bond is not exactly showing that there will be much mercy shown for Dr. Nassar. This arrest was described as the tip of the iceberg and yes, I believe it most certainly is. Not just with Nassar, as he is also facing several other allegations that he has, as yet not officially been charged with, including an allegation from a 2000 Olympian but also with USA Gymnastics who is now, after the Indy Star report conducting an independent investigation into its handling and current practices regarding sexual abuse allegations. An allegation has also been filed against USA Gymnastics by a former U.S. National Team member and specifically cites Bela and Martha Karolyi. It is truly a sad time for gymnastics and I sense there will be more sad news to come in the next few years.
2. Laurie Hernandez wins Dancing With the Stars:
Was there any question she wouldn’t win? I mean…duh! Back in 2013 watching her do her FX at P&G Championships that prediction could have been made! As soon as it was announced that Laurie would be on DWTS, it was apparent to every gym fan that she would probably be one of the best gymnasts who made the post Olympic jump from competition floor to dance floor. But as soon as she made her debut in week 1, it was apparent that Laurie would be not only one of the best gymnasts to grace the DWTS stage, but one of the best ever contestants! Watching her performances, sometimes I forgot that she is not a professional dancer. I mean, I know nothing about ballroom dancing but I do know when something looks good and something looks bad. And she just looked good, she looked natural. When you compare her with other contestants, past and present, it is apparent that she is in fact special.
It is a combination of factors, I suppose. She is a performer, first and foremost, she loves the stage, she can put in the emotion, she is enthusiastic, energetic, goes all out and has the the facial expressions, the girl can act, basically. And secondly, she has an understanding of movement and the way the body moves, akin to a dancer. Something that, yes gymnastics does teach but not to the extent that dance teaches. Also, she is a likeable personality that American of course was going to fall in love with and vote for. Laurie became the youngest ever DWTS star champion at 16 years old, taking that title from our very own Shawn Johnson who won the Mirror Ball in 2009, aged 17.
It will be interesting to see where Laurie goes from here. It was announced that she will join the DWTS tour after this, having partaken in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this week also. We can also expect a book from Laurie in January 2017 so big things are happening for Baby Shakira but the post Olympic wave does not last forever so it will be interesting to see will she make a return to the competition floor. Of course, she is so young and still hasn’t even competed at a World Championships so I would like to say yes we will see Ms. Laurie back in a leotard but honestly, the girl has the potential, probably the most potential of all Olympic gymnasts in history to really make it big in show business, to make a career outside of the sport and I wouldn’t want to see her pass that up either!
3. First Russian National Team Camp since Rio held at Round Lake:
We often get little information about the happenings of Russian gymnastics and the happenings at Round Lake but it was reported that this week Russia’s top gymnasts gathered at Round Lake for the first time since Rio for a training camp. Many of the Russian gymnasts have been hitting the competition circuit hard in the months after Rio with Olympians, Angelina Melnikova, Seda Tutkhalian and Daria Spiridonova along with Russian juniors, Elena Eremina and Anastasia Illiankova making appearances everywhere from France to Spain to Italy to Switzerland. Hopefully now however they will get some well deserved rest because at Elite Gym Massilia in France recently both Daria and Seda looked burnt out! Olympic medalist and World Champion, Maria Paseka reportedly missed camp due to back injury and of course, as we know Aliya Mustafina is taking time off and has recently gotten married.
4. Amy Tinkler and Ellie Downie shortlisted for Young Sports Personality of the year:
Following on from a great year for British Gymnastics, Olympian and World Championships bronze medalist, Ellie Downie and Olympic and World bronze medalist, Amy Tinkler have been shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award. The pair are in the top 10 in contention for the award that is given to an outstanding athlete aged 17 and under on the 1st January 2016 and the winner is decided by a panel of judges. The two are in good company with past winners including Olympic medalist and World Champion, Tom Daley, multiple Grand Slam winner, Andy Murray and soccer star Wayne Rooney.
The top 3 will be announced on December 8th.
5. Simone Biles says she will be back on the competition floor:
Amid the craziness of doing a book tour to promote her book ‘Courage to Soar’ and attending award show after award show, including the Glamour Women of the Year Awards where she picked up an award, Biles discussed her plans for her gymnastics future. She said she will make a run for 2020, but will not return to competition in 2017…no surprise there, who on earth thought she’d be back that soon! She has said, at the earliest she will be back in late 2018. I remain skeptical, just as I did with Aly and Gabby back in 2014 but honestly, I think we’re entering a different age in gymnastics.
For some time, post 2004 until this Olympic cycle, particularly in American gymnastics, making a second Olympic team was just not something that happened. Now, with Aly and Gabby having made successful comebacks and having seen the American field contain many gymnasts that have lasted not just one, but two Olympic cycles, I think we will see more and more Olympic comebacks and long spanning gymnastics careers in American gymnastics, not quite Chusovitina long but Dominique Dawes long, or Shannon Miller long. Plus, Simone is such a superhuman and hasn’t struggled with that much injury in her career so a comeback should be something she is capable of.
6. Newly elected F.I.G. President Morinari Watanabe previews his plans for the future of gymnastics:
Watanabe, who will take over for Bruno Grandi in 2017 after a 20 year reign as President of the F.I.G. promises much hope for the future of gymnastics. In the lead up to Tokyo 2020, it is interesting to have a Japanese President and in this interview with Inside Gymnastics, Watanabe gives his insight into how to improve the popularity of gymnastics and the teams in Tokyo be 4 member teams among other things.
7. Simone Biles shortlisted for Sports Illustrated ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ Award:
Yet another potential award for the fantastic Simone Biles. Biles has been shortlisted along with 11 other athletes for the prestigious Sports Illustrated ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ award. The 4 time Olympic gold medalist is in good company with the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, 5 time Olympic gold medalist, Katie Ledecky, Basketball legend, LeBron James and 9 time Olympic gold medalist and sprinting legend, Usain Bolt also in the running for the award. The selection will be made next month and whilst the readers vote will not decide the award winner, you can have your say here: http://www.si.com/sportsperson/2016/11/21/sports-illustrated-2016-sportsperson-contenders-reader-poll?utm_content=buffere0c96&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
8. Mary-Anne Monckton engaged:
Aussie gymnast and Commonwealth Games silver medalist announced this week that she is engaged. The gymternet favourite who unfortunately missed out on a chance at an Olympic berth this year due to injury announced the news via social media. I wish the pair all the best!