Things Are Happening – January 19, 2018

A. Victim impact statements

Begin here, go anywhere.

That’s the official motto of USA Gymnastics, the kind of hollow, vaguely meaningless platitude we’ve grown all too familiar with coming from that organization over the past several months.

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot today, and deriving some dark satisfaction from the irony of it all.

This week, 122 (and counting) extraordinary women, some as young as 15, have made what had to be an impossibly painful decision. They decided they would stand up in court, in front of cameras, in front of That Guy, and recount in detail the vicious trauma he put them through, the failures—both passive and despicably active—of the adults around them, and the lasting fear, ache, confusion, anger, guilt, shame, and agony they have been left with. I don’t know how many of you are watching, but it has been a sight to see. I mean a sight to see.

A group of people, ultimately comprising 122 in person and countless others watching—who were forced to cross the River Styx every month, or week, or day of their youths to visit Hades himself while no one in a position of authority lifted a finger to help—finding their voice together, and learning that it is brave and loud and beautiful in its fury. Learning that they have already done so much, more than they realize, and can do so much more.

So yes, USA Gymnastics, they began here. And yes, USA Gymnastics, they can go anywhere. And they’ve chosen to go to your funeral.

If you can, here are a few of the videos to watch. Kyle Stephens was the first to speak and echoed Rachael Denhollander when she said, “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

Lindsey Lemke was all flames and held nothing back. She was on the MSU team when Kathie Klages tried to make them sign that card.

Today, it was Jordyn speaking publicly for the first time.

In addition to everything else, note Jordyn’s reference to eating in front of the coaches. When we discuss the culture of fear and intimidation that fosters silence and allows grooming and predators to thrive…

Jordyn was followed by #Aly2020, who brought the house down—figuratively, but she’s on the warpath to do it more than figuratively.

No one is talking about being so honored to hit four for four now, are they USAG?

Also, That Guy wrote a letter to the judge after the second day whining about how it was unfair that he had to spend a couple days listening to all the people whose lives he tried to destroy across decades. In case you needed some horrible, horrible comedy. Because it’s all about him. Still. No one else matters.

B. Bye ranch

Well lookey here! Bless my stars! USA Gymnastics suddenly found out that the ranch is bad!

USAG has elected to move training camps away from the ranch, effective immediately-ish, and cancel the January national team camp. This is a result of days of media pressure following Simone’s statement expressing fear about being forced to return to the place where she was abused. Or, I mean, “it has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December.”

Mmmm. Mmmhmm. Sure. So, all the articles and outrage was just a silly timing coincidence? You were going to do that anyway? Right now? Cool. Then please explain why there was a developmental camp going on at the ranch AS you released that statement. They literally cannot stop from patting themselves on the back about how great their intentions are, even when doing less than the bare minimum. This isn’t about you.

It is something, of course. It is a necessary step, as well as a demonstration of the power of the athletes. If Simone had decided to cut that paragraph out of her post, there 100% would still be a national team camp at the ranch starting on Monday.

The ranch was awful, the gymnasts should never have been forced to go back there, and national team camps needed to be moved for a number of reasons, some of which related to abuse and some of which not. But, the significance of the ranch as a contributing factor to the abuse should not be overlooked. It certainly wasn’t a cause of the abuse, which we know would have happened (and did happen) anywhere due to the abject failure and viciousness of dozens of awful people. At the same time, the “at the ranch, no one can hear you scream” isolation that we used to joke about, the “no distractions” seclusion the coaches used to praise, helped create an environment where abuse flourished.

Being that cut off, gymnasts were left without recourse, solely subject to the dictates of the small collective of beholden-to-each-other-and-no-one-else national staff—whom we now know were largely not trained/responsible/human enough to put the best interests or safety of the gymnasts in the forefront—and the individual coaches. That may have been fine for some, but in too many cases the individual coaches themselves were the perpetrators of silence through fear, not advocates or protectors. (See Jordyn’s victim statement.) Going to the ranch was essentially dropping gymnasts off, alone, in the middle of the forest, surrounded by all their worst tormentors. That’s a horror movie, not a training camp.

So yes, the ranch needed to go, and a new location must be chosen, one that is less isolated, less isolated from guardians and decent medical care and (let’s be real) law enforcement.

At the same time, this is one inch of half of a step of what needs to be done (as I said, all the abuse would still have happened even if the ranch hadn’t been the training center), and doing the right thing after three days of terrible press does not earn a gold star or standing ovation. You don’t get credit for starting to be mildly sane or aware. Only caring when it starts to get you in trouble with the press is a really old routine. Get some new choreography.

C. American Cup roster

And yet it goes on. I understand the discomfort or cognitive dissonance that comes from being disgusted by everything everyone has ever done and yet still wanting to follow the sport and USAG’s competitions. It feels weird. But, supporting the athletes is supporting the athletes, whether it’s in the courtroom or on the competition floor. As Aly said, don’t let him take gymnastics away from you.

So, the FIG released the list of participants for the American Cup, who on the women’s side will be

Fabiane Brito (BRA) — Brazil’s exciting new junior, she has a DTY on vault and scored a 14.200 on beam in 2017. She’s supposed to join forces with Andrade, Saraiva, Fidelis, and mythical-bars-specialist-who-doesn’t-exist-yet to give Brazil an exceptionally competitive team this quad.

Brooklyn Moors (CAN) – You know her from last year because her floor is perfection, but she’s actually still pretty new to the elite scene, so I’m eager to see how events like bars and beam are progressing in an AA competition.

Mao Yi (CHN) – She still exists, you guys! Mao had a rough Olympics on floor and continued her struggles into 2017, but she’s still in the mix for China because she has a DTY and the potential for a real D on floor. She remained among China’s better VT/FX scores in 2017.

Kelly Simm (GBR) – Simm made a couple mid-quad worlds teams for GBR in 2014-15 to perform VT, UB, FX in qualification (and team final VT in 2014). She returned from injury last year for bars and beam, but we haven’t seen vault or floor from her in a while.

Elisabeth Seitz (GER) – Uh…is Elisabeth Seitz. And is also somehow continuing to get better, even on the non-bars events, enough so that she remains an AA pick for Germany every year, every time we think someone new might pass her by.

Mai Murakami (JPN) – Depending on form (it’s always tough for the non-American women to be in top shape at the beginning or March because…why would you be?), Mai is the first really legitimate contender with a chance to break the American run in several years. She came so close at worlds…

Sanna Veerman (NED) – She’s the new Dutch senior on the block, so you’ll probably fall in love with her or something. She has the potential for some real difficulty on bars (Church to Pak, piked Jaeger, Shap 1/2), which would help the national team prospects right now as well.

Morgan Hurd (USA) – Duh.

The second US entry will be announced at a later date. The announced men so far are

Francisco Barretto (BRA)
Sun Wei (CHN)
Joel Plata (ESP)
James Hall (GBR)
Philipp Herder (GER)
Kenzo Shirai (JPN)
Petro Pakhniuk (UKR)
Yul Moldauer (USA)

A world cup event without Oleg???? I don’t even know where to begin. Moldauer is the defending champion, though Kenzo is an all-arounder now—as we know—so that train might be difficult to stop. Also, I feel like Kenzo could win the women’s competition too based on the bars and beam videos he shares. He should compete at both. Simultaneously.

D. GymCastic

This week, we discuss Maggie and Simone, our desires for the ranch to be closed (IT’S LIKE WE’RE SOOTHSAYERS), the problems with USAG’s statements, ugh Geddert, and Marcia Frederick, whose story has unfortunately been sort of lost in all of this.

And then we get to the weekend in NCAA gymnastics, breaking down the Alabama vault debacle, the best performances and weirdest scores of the week, and how Suzanne is already being SOOOO Suzanne.

E. Beam routine of the week

Oh. Was that not a beam routine? Oops.


19 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – January 19, 2018”

  1. They’re using the ranch in February for Acro trials according to gymcastic. Sever ties??

  2. Jordyn talked about getting to London with their bodies hanging by a thread and I wanted to cry. There’s so much to unpack in her statement and the more and more I hear the more I think we were all lying to ourselves when we said “it’s so much better now”

    1. For me, it was especially heartbreaking to hear that she still questions whether or not she could have made the AA if she’d received actual medical attention rather than the “treatments” of Nassar. The damage can’t be undone, though she’s done so tremendously well with herself and her career since then.

  3. I never understood the ranch. The only reason camps were held there was because of the Karolyis. The gym, itself, wasn’t exactly spectacular. Why not build a gym in Colorado Springs or Indy that looks something along the lines of UGA or LSU training gyms. Have it in a city, hotels used as dorms, medical treatment including hospitals extremely close by.

    I also found Jordyn’s statement about food interesting and I’m glad you mentioned it. Geddert and Karolyi were ruthless. Liukin has had accusations against him as well, yet he seems to get a pass because of Nastia. I hope USAG cleans house, including Liukin.

    I suspect Rhonda Faehn is wishing she hadn’t left UF now. Although, I do think her involvement is the only reason USAG acted in the first place. I will applaud Faehn for taking all accusations seriously when those before her never did.

    1. Given the number of former elites Rhonda recruited to UF there’s no doubt she had heard the stories about what went on there (food wise, training, I’m not talking about the slimy doc) and may have been part of the reason she wanted to leave UF for USAG – help clean house.

      It does appear that things started happening not long after Rhonda started at USAG – coincidence, I doubt it.

      1. I agree that the timing of when Rhonda started at USAG and when things started happening isn’t a coincidence. While the initial reason for change was Sarah Jantzi deciding to speak up, I think Rhonda may have been someone that Sarah thought would have been willing to listen (in contrast to others at USAG).

        USAG certainly should have done more than they did to stop Nassar. However, if Rhonda was able to play a role in at least stopping the abuse at the ranch, I hope that’s the reason she doesn’t regret leaving Florida, no matter what happens from here.

      2. I find it interesting and somewhat curious that people are willing to attribute so much good to Rhonda when we really don’t know anything about what happened. All we know is that Sarah reported Maggie’s abuse to Rhonda and Rhonda reported it to Steve Penny. Attributing any actions (positive or negative) to Rhonda beyond that is difficult because we simply don’t know. (We only know what Steve Penny did and it’s unfortunately a lot of bad stuff like not reporting immediately and telling victims to keep quiet.) But trying to create a fiction about what Rhonda did or didn’t do strikes me as a bit…odd.

  4. So proud of all the women who are speaking up and I hope they are finding healing in getting to make their statements. And for those who were unable to make statements or didn’t want to, I hope they are encouraged by those who have spoken and are able to find healing in their own way. I wish they could just play these statements on repeat in Larry’s jail cell for his whole sentence/rest of his life.

    Raze the ranch to the ground and salt the ashes.

    1. THIS! This is exactly the punishment he deserves.

      “I wish they could just play these statements on repeat in Larry’s jail cell for his whole sentence/rest of his life.”

  5. I tried so hard to believe that things were systematically better but I couldn’t get there. The culture of gymnastics at too many gyms is to teach athletes that their feelings and wants are meaningless, their “no” is meaningless, they have to do it This Way or they are a failure. And then Brestyan’s and Texas Dreams and Aimee Boorman gave me hope. Maybe we can have a different foundation going forward? One that isn’t based on obedience? Maybe Rhonda, Simone, Jordyn, and Ally can lead us?

  6. It is truly upsetting what USA Gymnastics allowed this to happen. I was greatly disturbed by Jordan Weiber’s comments about how she was afraid to eat too much in front of coaches and how their bodies were being held together by threads in the Olympics.

  7. first of all, Spencer you are amazing

    Second of all can someone tell me what happened with Marcia Frederick?

    What accusations has Valeri had against him?

    1. Marcia Frederick shared her story of sexual abuse from when she was competing late last week:

      As for Valeri, Vanessa Atler discussed in her Gymcastic interview some unhealthy weight practices, such as how he would weigh her 3 times a day. Katelyn Ohashi has blogged about her struggles with weight, including some diary issues from when she was 13 years old. One example that sticks out is how she would be kicked out of the gym for weighing too much. Those are a couple of problematic things Valeri has done.

  8. In my country, an institution that is not performing can be taken over, a new board appointed, and then it can be gutted if necessary. Is there a legal mechanism here? You would need someone who was not afraid to make the changes needed. A report would need to be done and then you would need a complete badass outsider to come in tear it down and then rebuild. Maybe an option between leave as is an de-certify?

  9. The NBC documentary about the Ranch was creepy when it came out, and I remember thinking that it was so clearly an environment where abuse could happen. Now with all that we know about Nasser it’s even more appalling. This: “Raze the ranch to the ground and salt the ashes.”

  10. When Jordyn finished her statement and went back to her seat, hugged her mom, my heart dropped once again. She was one of the first when Nassar news broke to jump in his defence “he treated Jordyn very professionally”. The pain Jordyn had to endure through all of this is just unimaginable. She’s a hero.

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