Things Are Happening – February 9, 2018

A. The state of the US women’s program

It’s basically that.

If you’re all of humanity, you’ve spent the last couple months asking, “But…what…is…this…though…now?”

USAG provided some guidance as to where things stand in our new post-ranch, post-Valeri dystopian void by announcing the plan for upcoming spring competitions.

A one-day verification competition, held at LSU’s training facility on February 25, will be used in lieu of the typical national camp to decide assignments for the World Cup events in Birmingham, Stuttgart, and Tokyo, as well as the alternate for the American Cup.

So basically, it’s a camp…except shorter, so with less time for everything to be aggressively terrible? I can get on board with that. I do think there’s virtue in getting feedback from national coaches and judges about training, technique, and how things will be evaluated, but that can be added back in later, ideally in a better format that’s geared more toward learning and improvement as a group rather than IMPRESS MARTHA EVERY SECOND, YOU CAN’T BE INJURED OR SHE WILL THINK YOU’RE WEAK.

That’s why I believe the national coaching should be separated from the team selectors, to create an environment of “we’re all here to work together and improve” rather than “fear me and impress me because I hold your fate in my hands.” Side note: national coaches also shouldn’t have their own elites while acting as national coaches, which lends itself to an “I’m not going to help you that much because you might get better than my gymnast” culture.

The national team world needs to bring in more, different coaches and expand from being a little exclusive club because little exclusive clubs are ones where corruption thrives, favoritism reigns, and “protecting our own” is a thing. How many WAG national-team affiliated people rush to social media to defend their own, without full facts, without listening to people who had different experiences, EVERY DAMN TIME? As we all learned in middle school, cliques are corrupt tragedies.

There’s so much that needs to be fixed, and while initiating this one-day selection competition is clearly a last-minute attempt to try to retain normalcy (and the basic existence of a women’s program) while showing a little more transparency and professionalism, those are still solid goals. It would have been very USAG just to say, “No national camps? OK, these are the people we’ve selected, it’s a secret, also their coach is my best friend, shhh goodbye.” USAG is clearly panicked, which is a good thing (you should be), though it does show in some of the slapdash, “was this thought through?” elements of this new verification.

For instance, in a total 180, non-coach guardian chaperones have gone from being FORBIDDEN to being REQUIRED. That’s great in theory, but they also have to pay for their own flight and accommodations, have the freedom to go, and get this planned SUPER last-minute. It’s basically tomorrow. GOODBYE MONEY NICE KNOWING YOU.

At least there’s a provision that USAG will provide a Safe Sport chaperone if a guardian cannot attend. As long as you trust USAG and Safe Sport.

Opening the doors to the families is an important step, but hopefully USAG doesn’t view that as “Welp, the parents are here, so it’s their problem now, *clap* *clap*.” USAG still has a duty of care.

As part of this same announcement, Rhonda mentioned that the US will not be sending teams to Jesolo or Gymnix this year. That doesn’t completely preclude US gymnasts from attending (the Hills juniors went to Gymnix last year to compete in the challenge division without being assigned nationally, and Jesolo is leaving the door open for US gymnasts to compete as individuals), but it means that the US as a national organization won’t be sending a team. It’s a little jarring because it’s JESOLO and a tradition, but this is also a weird year and NEEDS to be a weird year.

Oh, and of course the other NCAA coaches are freaking out about LSU getting this “advantage” in the form of a free visit from the entire US national team to its training palace. Because that’s the biggest issue here. Good priorities.

The requirements around this competition show that USAG is at least kind of listening and trying to change the worst things about the system, but it’s all still precipitated on the idea that you trust USAG to follow through on promises, handle interactions between staff and gymnasts appropriately, create a safe environment, and be transparent in all things. (It’s a GYMNASTICS COMPETITION, not a meeting of the national security council, there should be nothing to hide!)

Few of us have that trust in USAG right now, so it will be fascinating to see what USAG does over the next few months to try to gain that trust back and hang onto its own existence as the knives are drawn and the investigations ramp up. Depending on what comes out in these investigations, it may end up being impossible for USAG to continue regardless of what happens right now.

B. The US House of Representatives

That esteemed body, which would never act in a petty, capricious, or irresponsible way and whose first priority is never, ever political grandstanding and power grabs but rather improving the lives of the American people (*dies of sarcasm, finally*) has initiated an investigation into the USOC, USAG, MSU and others. The investigation is beginning with a request for ALL THE RECEIPTS—all documents and communications—relating to Nassar, complaints against him, sexual abuse reporting procedures, and a lot more.

Cut to Gedderts’:

I kid……..

Do I though…..?

Speaking of Geddert, Aly says he would have known about That Guy back in 2011 because of a conversation he overheard in the car. No one is surprised by this. He’s also being investigated by the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office. Oh…hmm….drag.

C. American Cup

Because everything’s normal and there’s nothing to see here, USAG announced this week that Maile O’Keefe has been selected as the second US women’s competitor at the American Cup, joining world champion Morgan Hurd.

(*whispers* maybe it would have been better to use your new little competition to make this decision because of the new spirit of transparency and objectivity…? Or…we’re not…? OK… *ends whisper*)

This year’s new seniors are coming for ALL YOUR ASSIGNMENTS. What’s left of them, anyway. Now that she’s competing, O’Keefe will automatically move to the top of the list of favorites, though it should be a real competition this year with Murakami and Hurd and whatnot as very legitimate title challengers as well.

On the men’s side, Allan Bower got his “we’re really sorry we didn’t select you for worlds, please don’t be mad—Roses are red, violets are blue, Allan Bower” assignment, so he will join Yul Moldauer for a little Oklahoma party at American Cup. It’s interesting that this decision was also made before Winter Cup this year rather than after, as it was in 2017.

D. Non-US competitions

Last weekend, Brooklyn Moors took the all-around title at Elite Canada, in addition scoring 14.6 on floor in the event final—a total Murakami-in-Japan level score.

Everything was going swimmingly in the all-around for Ana Padurariu until her final event—vault—where she injured her ankle and subsequently had to pull out of event finals as well as the Stuttgart World Cup. Because everything is the worst.

For this weekend, focus moves across the Atlantic to England for the English Championships and final Commonwealth Games trial. The men’s seniors and top women’s seniors will compete on Saturday at 15:00 local (that’s 10am Eastern, 7am Pacific) with all the big names expected to appear, including both Downies. After the competition, five men and five women will be selected for the CWG teams.

Speaking of the Downies, Ellie has been chosen to compete at the Birmingham World Cup along with Claudia Fragapane, while Nile Wilson and James Hall will compete for the men. The full international roster was just announced and created some stir for including Marz Frazier as the US women’s competitor, though that is simply a nominative placeholder. The decision on that spot will be made at the February 25 verification.

E. What…is…this?

Want to read the weirdest interview of all time? Of course you do.

You know that thing where you’re talking to a gymnast and then you ask them what a bong is? (Like…did the interviewer not know…?) Which then leads to the natural “police bribery” and “adventurous sex” follow-up questions. Duh. Journalism 101, people.

We at GymCastic have a lot to learn. SUCH a missed opportunity to ask US national team members what a bong is.

F. GymCastic

A slow little week. We discuss Valeri’s resignation, of course, what it means for the program, why it happened, and the fallout, including the #wst national team social media statements and what should come next for the position of national team coordinator. Plus, there’s the whole third sentencing for That Guy and our diverging opinions about the dad who tried to attack him.

But it can’t all be pain, uncertainty, and abuse! We also have to be responsible and have fun sometimes! So, we take some real time to break down all the best (worst) (but also best) moments from the SIMOVIE, especially how the ranch was the set of an old west ghost town and that time when Martha asked Aimee whether an Amanar was hard. I’m still not really over it. #yes.

10 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – February 9, 2018”

  1. Whew.
    First and foremost, I feel terrible for the athletes who would have been on those Jesolo and Gymnix teams. Absolutely none of this is their fault but they get hit so hard. 🙁
    Second, I’m very curious about whether anyone has concerns about encouraging/forcing parents to be around too much? Beyond the increased financial burden, there are also some cases when it really is better for athletes to not have their parents around in higher pressure situations (I’m thinking both of some gym parents I have seen as a coach and of people like Dominique Moceanu’s parents). Maybe the point is that there is no single adult we can trust to have athletes’ best interests at heart, and making sure parents, coaches, athlete reps, etc. are all around is what we need to do?
    Also, are older gymnasts (18+ or even 21+) required to have a chaperone? Because that gets weird fast.

  2. Echoing the question about chaparones for gymnasts over eighteen (which may just be Ashton Locklear at this point, but it’s going to be an issue the closer we get to 2020). I can see the desire for oversight, but given that it is also a financial burden, I don’t think it should be required for the adult gymnasts.

    And regarding the O’Keefe selection…I agree, it’s not transparent. But at the same time, if you told me six months ago that O’Keefe was going, it would have made absolute sense. Maybe we don’t know what they are going off of, but it doesn’t scream conspiracy or bias. I had been hoping for Chiles, though.

  3. Right. The problem is that they were NOT ALLOWED. And it being just one more example of how screwed up it all was. Currently, tho, TPTB are making it up as they go along (out of some necessity, I suppose) and I hope will figure out a more rational policy in time…

  4. What do other Olympic sports do regarding chaperones? For example, how does US Swimming and Figure Skating work? What about the US under-18 national teams in soccer and basketball?

    Also, will the gymnasts no longer stay in the Olympic village?

    And I’m assuming the rules apply equally to the men’s and women’s programs, correct? If not, that poses a whole other issue.

  5. I’m obsessed with Marz and I really hope she gets the spot but there might be other options so I’m not sure

  6. I don’t know if this would even kind of be possible, but my dream is that a coalition of NCAA coaches takes over running the women’s program. I think they would create a great environment for the gymnasts and foster success.

    1. I think there are so many NCAA coaches who would do a good job here. I have this vision of re-uniting Jeff Graba and Jenny Rowland and making them co-national team coordinators. I thought they were a great duo and might have won a national title together at Auburn eventually. I think Graba is motivational and positive and has created a good environment at Auburn. He followed the Thompsons at Auburn so probably has some insight into cleaning up a culture of abuse. Jenny seems calm and patient and it seems like it would be a good idea to have an actual judge playing a role in running the national team.

      I could see a number of NCAA coaches being great here, I just can’t imagine who would want to walk into USAG’s dumpster fire.

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