The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

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.


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