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.


29 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – February 2, 2018”

  1. I’m flooooored that Valeri happened now. It’s what I wanted, but I wasn’t holding my breath. Wonder if Nastia will stick around?

    1. Nastia is only a commentator, and started in 2013, a little while before anyone knew Valeri was going to be the National team coordinator, so I assume nothing too drastic will happen to her.

  2. I can see where some interaction between the Deciders and the Coaches is good. Like, if there’s a certain amount of ‘we need to see you train a more-consistent, easier dismount in addition to your current inconsistent one to be comfortable putting you on teams”, it would be devastating for the athletes/coaches not to be getting that feedback.

    But also, Spencer for one of these roles. Seriously.

  3. A. Gabby Douglas trained at Buckeye.
    B. Agreed, those statements are gross.

    I usually agree with most of what you say, but while I don’t condone the father, I have compassion and can’t imagine what he must have been feeling. He wasn’t charged. Apparently, he didn’t know the details. His daughters wouldn’t let him read the statements beforehand, and that’s ok. It’s also understandable that a father with 3 daughters who were abused by the same man, lost his cool. It’s heart breaking watching him go after That Guy. Watching him in court is even more heartbreaking. The judge saying she doesn’t want to charge him, that she can’t imagine what he’s going through. At one point he says “realizing my daughter’s will never trust a man again,” and it’s crushing. And he apologized. A lot.

    1. Completely agree. It’s heartbreaking and I feel for him and can’t imagine. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I also like that he specifically said that he didn’t mean to upstage his daughters.

      1. I guess they could try and be like “she totally only got abused at Chows” if they get prodded on that question, even though that would also be incorrect. The people who are trying to say “no sexual abuse at our gym!” just need to realize that this isn’t a gym to gym thing, this happened at the Karolyi ranch, where the gym you train in no longer has any impact on your personal safety.

  4. In totally unsubstantiated tumblr rumours news, supposedly the next time Chow goes to China for one of his exchange camps he’s gonna have talks about becoming a national team coach there

  5. The Dad in Court video is getting a lot of play on facebook in my rural conservative town/farm area. His reaction matches those of the people here. Words are nice, but a lotttttt of people here always say if something like that happened, the perpetrator “would be dead” before the cops had time to put him in jail. I agree with Spencer that what he did was wrong, and I don’t really like it because it drew attention away from the victims themselves, but it has gotten renewed attention from a crowd I hadn’t seen posting about the issue before.

  6. In addition to what Spencer said about it not being any coach’s place to talk about whether or not his/her athletes were abused, I’m also just really sad that it’s gotten to the point where bragging about being a gym that doesn’t abuse its athletes seems like a thing that actually makes sense. That should be the bare minimum expectation, not some standard of exceptional achievement, but sadly this is where we stand after all the wrong that has been done to so many athletes.

    1. I don’t think the gyms were bragging. They were asked by the media for their thoughts and I suspect local news outlets are asking the bigger name gyms what they know and whether their athletes were involved. For all we know, the coaches may have talked to their former elites asking what they are comfortable with the gym saying. There have been comments on this site alone assuming certain former elites were abused, even though those athletes have made no comment. It could be that Skinner or former Parkettes girls told the coaches to say something so that their names no longer come up as survivors or so that they don’t have to talk about it directly.

      I think we need to be careful in assuming the worst about everyone involved in the sport. There is plenty of blame to go around but not everyone is guilty of a crime or moral atrocity.

      1. I see your point, but if these coaches *have* discussed this with their gymnasts and the gymnast *has* asked their coach to speak on their behalf, that’s something the coach should lead with. You know “MyKayla and I have have discussed” or “MyKayla has said”. Just something that makes it clear these conversations have the athletes consent. It’s worth noting that (looking at Skinner specifically) when asked for additional comment, all she did was “confirm she was not abused”. She didn’t even make the statement herself, she went through some channel at the university. That’s obviously her prerogative, it just doesn’t give me overwhelming confidence that Skinner had cleared this all with her former coaches before they started talking. They have also had a habit of speaking out of turn in the past…
        Additionally, you cannot say “none of our athletes were abused by Nassar” because you don’t know. Even if you asked each one individually and they all said no, you still can’t say that because a negative answer doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Your athletes may not be ready to talk about it, or they may fear needing to talk about it publicly if they tell you what happened.
        So many woman have had to give up every shred of privacy to put this man in jail. The little privacy that remains needs to be fiercely protected.

      2. I agree, but we also need to remember there is no perfect response to a horrific situation like this. A lot of these coaches know two things: how to coach and how to run their gyms. They are trying their best to respond to questions that quite frankly they shouldn’t have to answer. Reporters shouldn’t be going to them and asking about their athletes and Nassar, but they do.

        It is the gymnasts stories, but unless we know for certain that these coaches are wrong or haven’t consulted with their athletes, let’s stop portraying them as villains. Remember a lot of these coaches are furious just like us as fans and they live and breathe gymnastics 24/7. This is their entire life and livelihood. I think the gymternet needs to put down the pitchforks and engage in thoughtful discourse over what changes need to occur.

      3. I agree and I disagree with if Skinner had asked her to say something she should have led with that. That would have just opened the door for the hounds to beat on Skinner’s door for confirmation. I don’t think that those who have not been abused want to speak out – I am sure they would get grief for there statements to somehow diminishing those that did get abused. Especially Skinner since everyone loves to hate on her for being socially tone deaf.

        I have not seen all the victims, but of the ones I have and the “names” who have indicated they were not victims – it appears that in part of his selective process he did NOT prefer blonds.

    1. That is why we have NCAA gymnastics! Crack scoring seems like nothing comparatively.

  7. I say they should do a committee of five — two former gymnasts (must be from different eras — Shannon Miller and Alicia Sacramone for example), two coaches (with no gymnasts on the current national team), and one wild card (could be an exec, choreographer, or another gymnast/coach).

    1. Shannon, Alicia, Maggie Nichols’ coach (because she was the reason why this all started) , Miss Val and I’m not sure about wild card.

  8. Sze En is being funded by a scholarship/athletic grant from Singapore to train in the US, so she’s definitely still going to be representing Singapore as an elite. Alexeeva is really in a no man’s land though.

  9. Forty years from now, someone will be making cash taking disaster tourists on day tours through the crumbling wreck of the Karolyi Ranch exclusion zone. They’ll talk in hushed whispers about Karolyis and Liukins and the creepy echoes of screams and Taylor Swift through headphones and bodies hitting mats you can still hear at night sometimes.

  10. I appreciate the comment from Sarah (above) about the reaction to a father’s physical aggression toward his daughters’ abuser – I do hope more people pay attention to what happened so it can hopefully not happen again. But I still agree with Spencer that we can do better – violence only results in more violence (source: all of history). But more importantly, these women do not need a male protector nor a male savior to fix their lady sport. These females are burning it to the ground and can rebuild it better all on their own. The statements from Rachael and Mattie and Aly and Jordyn and all the other women and girls are already doing far more than a machismo response could ever do. Hopefully the people drawn in with the click-bait-dad-protects-daughters video will not only learn that women can/do/are/will protect themselves, but that dialogue wins over threats/violence every time.

  11. Uhhhhh… we’re almost definitely gonna see charges brought in Texas and quite possibly also California and Indiana at the very least before we’re done with Nassar for good.

    Also, I have to disagree about the guy who rushed him. Nassar deserves a steel toed boot in the face for every single girl he harmed, every day for the rest of his life, at the absolute least, and then also to have a long, slow, excruciatingly painful death and burn in hell forever. I feel this way despite having zero connection to this case and no history as a victim of any other sexual abuse either. I can only imagine how much stronger the feeling must be for a man who had THREE daughters molested by this monster. IMHO everyone in that courtroom shoulda just stood back and let vigilante justice do what the courts don’t have the balls for. Nassar behaved in a cruel and unusual fashion with OVER 250 young women and he is so doggedly unrepentant that this judge commented he seems not to understand that what he did was wrong. He deserves cruel and unusual punishment. Call me unamerican but sorry, not sorry.

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