The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – February 2, 2018

A. Valeri OUT

Well now. I did not see that coming, at least so soon.

Today, Valeri Liukin resigned his position as women’s national team coordinator, providing a statement: “the present climate causes me, and more importantly, my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty.” All those eating disorders he tried to give everyone made things really tough on Nastia, you guys.

Anecdotal accounts seemed to indicate that things at national team camps were a little less draconian under Valeri than under Martha, but at the same time, stories from Atler and Ohashi and Wofford and Larson have indicated that over the last couple decades, Valeri has shown himself to be cut from the same old mold. He certainly does not represent FRESH START NEW FRIENDLY USAG. The whole thing when he took over was, “I will continue everything exactly the way Martha did, camp, camp, camp, she’s a genius, this is perfect” back when people wanted that. He can’t then turn around and represent a culture of change. He had to go.

It will be FASCINATING to see what happens next. I hope we don’t simply get “this is the person replacing Valeri as national team coordinator” because I’d like a complete reconstruction of the positions surrounding team selection, the introduction of an actual committee rather than a dictatorship, and a little more separation and objectivity.

I would prefer a selection committee that decides teams (as well as rosters for camps) to be present at the national camps but in an observational capacity only. This committee would be separate from a group of national team coaches who are there to do the “this is the technique you should use for that skill”-type work, separate from the judges providing feedback to the coaches, separate from the standards and practices employees who are there to ensure everyone behaves as they would be expected to in a professional workplace environment, and separate from the athlete representatives.

Hopefully distinct separation in roles like that would eliminate a lot of the ego-driven, my-way-or-the-highway culture that permeates the camps now, where those in power use threats of being removed from the national team or not getting invited back to camp to get their way and maintain an environment of silence and fear. The people who select teams and rosters shouldn’t be as close to the athletes and coaches as they are now, allowing for more objectivity and less politics in the decision-making process.

Having a single monarchical position of National Team Coordinator, regardless of whether the best person in the world is selected or not, invites too much of the cult of personality around “GENIUS COACH, MIRACLE WORKER, MARTHA JUST KNOWS AND SEES THINGS OTHERS DON’T” hogwash that we see over and over again and that allows for abuses of power to happen.

B. Gym damage control

The gyms are worried, and we’ve seen a few articles come out lately where gyms and coaches are desperately trying to shout “WE’RE DIFFERENT NO SEXUAL ABUSE HERE” so that they don’t lose membership. It’s a little gross.

In one case, Lisa Spini from Desert Lights gave an interview in which she made a number of proclamations about Skinner not being sexually abused, a premise for an interview that makes me very uncomfortable. The only person who gets to talk about this is Skinner herself. For anyone else, you don’t know enough about her experiences, even if you think you do, to make statements like these.

There’s also a whiff of “I’m good, and all these other coaches and parents are bad for not protecting the gymnasts” in here that’s a bit unsavory.

We saw another “we’re being good” article written about Buckeye that included this: “David Holcomb says some of the athletes here at Buckeye Gymnastics were treated for injuries by Nassar. Fortunately, none were abused.


C. The next sentencing

Soon we won’t have to look at That Guy’s disgusting garbage face anymore. I promise.

That Guy has been back in court this week, and if you’re confused about why, it’s because he’s being sentenced in a different county this time around. The Judge Aquilina sentencing was for Ingham, and this one is for Eaton, the county in which Geddert’s is located. This current hearing is taking a format cue from the last one, and by the end of the two sentencing hearings, we’ll be well into the 200s of victim impact statements.

But no one is talking about those statements because a dad tried to attack That Guy in court today, and ugh. This is not what we do. This does nothing and helps no one. The eagerness with which a number of people on the good guy’s team have been ceding the high ground in recent weeks is pretty disappointing. If your goal was to be on the news, you succeeded. If your goal was to help, you didn’t. It just makes everything harder and worse. Take a cue from the hundreds of other parents of victims and survivors who might want to do the same thing and instead SPOKE, words that were far more influential and important, that will do more and last longer, than this display.

Also, can we talk about judge Abigail Puritan not allowing him to “swear” in her courtroom? Get over it, Abigail. That’s the least offensive part of any of this. These social priorities…

D. USOC actions

Meanwhile, in other housecleaning, the entire board of USAG has been told to scram by the USOC. (Yeah, last time I posted a Things Are Happening, that hadn’t even happened yet. It feels like it was 75 years ago and we’ve lived a thousand lives since.) This is part of the USOC’s continued mission to be 18 months late, right on the button. At least it’s something…? We hope…?

The USOC is also initiating what is supposed to be an independent investigation into what the USOC and USAG knew and when. (Spoiler alert: the answers are “a whole lot” and “the whole time.”) It’s supposed to be made entirely public, with the hope being that it will reveal exactly who deserves punishment and exactly what rules must be created to prevent this from happening again. We’ll see…

E. Is there…US gymnastics?

Kind of. It’s certainly a time of flux at USA Gymnastics, but we’re still going strong with those elite qualifiers. And if the plane I happened to share yesterday with gymnasts coming to town for a JO meet was any indication, all anyone is thinking about is whether a certain someone brought the right leo or not. You know who you are. So we’re going to be fine…?

Anyway, at the Desert Lights qualifier, Emily Lee and Madelyn Williams both qualified senior elite for this year in addition to several juniors. At the Buckeye qualifier, we saw two nationally indistinct seniors get their qualifying scores in Irina Alexeeva of WOGA and Tan Sze En of Legacy Elite.

Alexeeva has been in citizenship limbo for a while now, keeping her from being able to compete for the US, while Tan has come to the US from Singapore but is currently internationally bound to Singapore with the FIG and would need to get a change of nationality to be eligible to compete for the US or to compete at nationals.

If there is a nationals. According to dear old twitter, tickets for U.S. Classic were supposed to go on sale today and didn’t, the arena saying it’s unsure whether the meet will be going ahead, at least in that venue. It’s going to be a weird year. It needs to be a weird year.

F. International gymnastics!

Competition at Elite Canada gets underway today with the men’s and women’s senior all-around competitions. Men’s event finals will follow on Saturday with the women’s on Sunday. Most of the major Canadian women will be there (except Isabela Onyshko and Brittany Rogers), with this competition notably marking the senior debut of Ana Padurariu who—depending on where you get your information—is a brand-new half-woodland fairy, half-queen of earth combination.

Women’s competition begins at 6:00 ET. You can follow results here, and watch here.

Also on Saturday, we have the gymnastics competition at the Reykjavik International Games, which you might remember from last year for having the craziest, Florida-home-meet scoring where everyone got a 70 on every event. FUN!

G. GymCastic

This week, we spent most of the time discussing our feelings about all the developments with That Guy, the sentencing, Geddert, USAG, and where gymnastics in the US goes from here. But fret not, we also spent plenty of time on the scoring from the OU/Florida meet because we needed a good laugh.


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