Things Are Happening – March 15, 2018


So here we go. Aly Gonna Getcha, Part 715.

In a Washington Post article, Aly Raisman expanded upon the issues she related in her book about the conditions at that Victorian Slum House known as the ranch. It was dirty, gross, poorly maintained, the food was bad, there was no nutritional assistance or even the smallest hint of appropriate medical facilities, and gymnasts were afraid to question any of it, all of which is corroborated by Melanie Seaman, an athletic trainer with the program during some critical years—and someone from whom I’d like to hear a lot more.

To anyone who read Aly’s book, this is mostly review (like studying for the final—and it will be on the test), but it does serve to reinforce the picture of a wildly antiquated environment with no safety/ behavioral standards or oversight and a training facility woefully inadequate for the medical and nutritional needs of a modern high-level athlete heading toward the Olympics.

We’re not surprised. Except apparently Kelli Hill and Mary Lee Tracy are very surprised, as they have imploded in real time on the GymCastic Facebook page about it. It’s worth addressing because I think their approach reflects the views of many coaches.

But here’s the thing: Regardless of whether you thought the food was edible or not, very bad situations did occur. These are not lies or inventions or matters of opinion. There weren’t appropriate medical facilities at the ranch or nearby, That Guy was abusing gymnasts in their beds and exploiting unpleasant conditions to groom them, gymnasts were afraid to speak up about issues small and large, there wasn’t a well-thought-out approach to the nutritional needs of top athletes (BUT THEY HAD YOGURT SO EVERYTHING’S FINE), there weren’t appropriate standards or oversight regarding abuse in any form, the gymnasts were admittedly miserable, Mattie Larson literally tried to give herself a concussion so that she didn’t have to go there. The list goes on.

These are things we know. Not perceptions to be argued. And while the individual coaches like Kelli weren’t actively complicit in creating these scenarios and don’t necessarily deserve punishment for them, everyone who ever went to the ranch should at the very least be doing some introspection about why they were (and apparently continue to be) OK with an environment that perpetuated a sense of powerlessness among gymnasts and as a result allowed a predator to go unchecked for that many years. “How might the conditions at the ranch being discussed here have indirectly created an environment that allowed this to happen?” “Maybe it’s actually about more than just the taste of the food?” “Did I unintentionally contribute to a culture of silencing athletes?” “Am I still doing that?” “Was there anything I could have done differently?” “What might I have missed?” “Why wasn’t I aware of these miserable gymnasts?” Those are hard questions but necessary ones.

Instead, we get defensiveness and accusations of lying.

But they were afraid to ask for simple things, so maybe try to figure out why, why their experience and perception of the environment might have been very different from yours.

But they were. They said it. So maybe try to see it. Try to figure out how that could have happened. What might other coaches have been doing to create that situation?

They aren’t lying brats to be disbelieved, no matter how much easier it is to think of them that way. They are victims of abuse. Listen to what they’re trying to tell you about contributing factors. Listen when they tell you that those factors—which might very well seem like unrelated overreactions to you—cannot be separated from That Guy and the reasons he was allowed to groom them and abuse them.

Because they’re trying to tell that to you.

And even if your athletes didn’t have the same experience, not everyone is your athlete. And the positive experience of some athletes does not negate the negative experience of others

Yes, you can argue whether conditional complaints like moldy egg showers are actually relevant to what are obviously much more serious issues like sexual abuse. But I happen to think they are relevant because the overall conditions at the ranch combined to cultivate low expectations in the gymnasts for how they should be treated. That meant when it came to actual serious mistreatment—sexual, physical, verbal, emotional—they were less likely to speak up (or recognize that it was wrong) because they thought they were supposed to be miserable in order to become successful. Or they thought they couldn’t speak up for fear of retribution. Which is a troubling environment to create.

CLEARLY it was a faulty environment. You don’t have decades of sexual abuse ignored, undetected, or covered up in environments that are working well and positively. The reason the environment came to be so bad can (and should) be argued—and there are legitimate arguments coming from a lot of angles in that regard—but you have to start from the place of agreeing to at least acknowledge that it was a bad situation. Otherwise there’s no hope of fixing it.

So maybe don’t refer to a situation where athletes were abused by a doctor as a learning environment? Just a thought?

The other issue bouncing around here is that even the defenders of the ranch are saying things like “it wasn’t great but it was edible.” Uh…high praise?

Let’s discuss why your expectations for an Olympic athlete training center are so low, because that’s part of this as well. Have you seen what other Olympic sports are doing in the realms of sports psychology, physical therapy, and nutrition? Shouldn’t the goal of a national training center have been to put high-level athletes in the best possible position to succeed? What about the ranch was actually doing that?

WHY was it a camp? WHY was it there? WHY did you have to “rough it”? Even if you found that tolerable, or fun, or fine, WHY was is like that? That’s not normal. It certainly wasn’t a matter of economic necessity. Steve Penny wasn’t on the bread line. In real sports, the goal is to help athletes be at their physical and mental peaks so they can perform their best in important situations. Why wasn’t that the goal here? What is it about how the system viewed these top athletes that led it to decide they don’t merit the same consideration and treatment as the world’s best swimmers and runners?

And how might that have helped create an environment where they felt powerless?

Maybe ask these questions before doing a Facebook-vomit.

It’s also worth noting that this article is by Sally Jenkins. Yeah, that Sally Jenkins—the one who was really into Bela and really not into the gymnasts in 2000. Yet, my feeling is that if you’re on the team now and trying to do good work, then we’ll take you. And hopefully the same process will follow for Kelli and Mary Lee. But for the moment, it’s clear that a number of coaches still don’t get it.

B. Jordyn

Speaking of athletes explicitly sharing their experiences and not being believed, Jordyn Wieber is not having a USAG court filing that asserts the victim impact statements from January don’t prove that USAG knew about Nassar prior to 2015.

Jordyn says that not only is the notion of USAG not knowing about Nassar until 2015 incorrect—because she witnessed someone being informed pre-2015—but this court filing also reveals that USAG is still attempting to silence them and avoid responsibility despite publicly trying to play the “We support the survivors. We’re listening. Empowerment scarf” card.

This reinforces why the athletes have so little trust in USAG or the USOC as organizations (or their “independent” investigations), because when it comes down to culpability, they are still acting as adversaries to the gymnasts and will always act as adversaries to the gymnasts in order to to defend their own interests as the court proceedings continue. That’s why an investigation must come from the outside.

C. To the gymnastics!

You have a very busy weekend in front of you. In addition to the final week of regular-season NCAA action (schedule coming soon), you have to follow the Baku event World Cup, the Stuttgart team competition, and the Stuttgart all-around World Cup. Good thing you don’t have friends or a life. That nonsense just makes trouble.

Let’s start with Stuttgart where there are several things that you mi—KOMOVA. Komova is back. That’s the thing. She’s last-minute participating in the team competition (replacing the injured Saifulina), with qualification beginning Friday at 10:00am local time and the final on Saturday at 5:00pm local time.

Here’s podium training:

Russia is the definite favorite with Kharenkova, Akhaimova, and Ilyankova also on the team, though pay attention to what we see from Belgium, which is sending its big five (Derwael, Klinckaert, Hermans, Deriks, and Brassart), Switzerland, which is sending Steingruber and the other top Swiss competitors, and Japan, which is sending Hatakeda and Kuwajima. You may remember Kuwajima took the world by storm with her beam routine at the WOGA Classic.

[FUN UPDATE: “Definite favorite” Russia was ALL THE RUSSIA on beam and melted into a ball of sad on the first day, missing the team final entirely. Cool. In good news, Komova was the best one on bars and beam and a small child screamed through the entire beginning of her beam routine. That small child was you.]

In the women’s AA world cup event, Jordan Chiles is competing for the first time in quite a while, attempting to take down name contenders like Melnikova (cross your heart and hope she lives) and Seitz. The other competitors will be Volleman (NED), Woo (CAN), Voss (GER), Kajita (JPN), Zhang (CHN), and Lucy Stanhope’s DTY (GBR). Competition is Sunday at 12:30pm local time.

On the men’s side, the US has allowed Akash Modi to leave “you’re not going to worlds” purgatory to take on Belyavskiy (RUS), Yusuke Tanaka (JPN), Nguyen (GER), Bevan (GBR), Sun (CHN), Bretschnider (GER), Pakhniuk (UKR), and Rijken (NED) at 12:30 local time on Saturday.

Because our time in the US has changed but it has not yet in Europe, keep in mind that the west coast of the US is currently 8 hours behind Germany (and the east coast 5 hours behind), instead of the usual 9 and 6 hours.

In Baku, qualification has already begun, with Chusovitina well out in front in women’s vault, showing a handspring lay 1/1 and Tsuk 1.5 that look totally believable and usual Chusovitina.

On bars, Lyu Jiaqi and Luo Huan are several thousand points out in front of the rest of the field because China.

Beam and floor will continue on Friday.

D. Last week’s results

We had a huge upset at the British Championship last weekend when Kelly Simm took the all-around title over the heavily favored Amy Tinkler. Tinkler had errors on beam and (most surprisingly) vault, while Simm out-performed her recent American Cup score by a point and a half to move just ahead. With a depleted group now being sent to the Commonwealth Games next month, Kelly Simm’s ability to give a reasonable showing in the AA is slowly turning into a must.

GB experienced another depletion scare when Georgia-Mae Fenton had a disaster-bars complete with a potential elbow injury, though word is she’s going to be fine.

Instead, it was the “I’m retiring” Charlie Fellows who took bronze. Maybe want to rethink that retiring thing?

Speaking of rethinking things, Brinn “you didn’t select me for CWG” Bevan took the British men’s AA title ahead of Cunningham and Purvis. Makes things kind of complicated.

But of course, the real highlight we all need to talk about is Danusia Francis, who competed as a guest and recorded a 49.000 in the AA. That 49.000 came with mistakes on bars and beam, so Danusia will feel like there’s definitely room for her to get up into the 51s, the score it took to make the worlds AA final last year.

The real show, however, was her save in floor finals.

Totally meant to.

At Gymnix, the primary question mark gymnast coming into the competition, Isabela Onyshko, won the all-around title in the challenge division with a 54.134, a score that would have put her second at Elite Canada a few weeks back. So mission accomplished. Victoria Woo finished second here, followed by Irina Aleexeva (and to answer your question, no I don’t know), Kayla DiCello, and Shallon Olsen.

Full results can be dissected and explored to your heart’s content here.

E. GymCastic

Get excited. This week, Jessica had the pleasure of chatting with legendary daredevil beam queen and two-time Olympian Elvire Teza and her partner in French greatness, Cecile Canqueteau-Landi, 1996 Olympian and coach of Madison Kocian and—now—Simone Biles.

Think of it as your break from the trash.

F. Beam routine of the week

How could it be any other?

She performs both of the beam Tezas in this routine: The Yang Bo from side position and the back full twist to hip circle from side position— still the craziest skill anyone has ever invented on beam.

“I’d hate [beam] too if I had to do that every day.” Preach Kathy.

42 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – March 15, 2018”

  1. My daughter went to the Ranch in the Aly days and her recollections of the conditions of food , housing and fear of coaching staff are right in tune with what Aly and the trainer are saying….shame on Kelli Hill and MLT for dissing these athletes…and don’t think their athletes didn’t experience some, if not all, of this as well….that’s how a culture of fear works.

    ….in fact, MLT should ask her daughter Rachel about the conditions as she was one of the “chaperones” in the cabins with the athletes while my child was there…when my daughter would return from the camps she’d comment that it was too bad the “salad” (read:lettuce only) didn’t ever have any dressing on it there and how even if there was dressing, “you wouldn’t dare use it “. The conditions at the Ranch, in total, made it a perfect recipe for the disaster of Nassar, whether Kelli or MLT believe it or not.

    Advice to Kelli and MLT, stop please, just stop.

  2. Far too many of these old-school coaches are on the defensive. None of them are capable of HEARING (thoughtful listening) what went wrong and how to change. I respected Kelli and thought she was one of the greats, however now she will just be #ButChobani and one I am not sad was a casualty in cleaning house. USAG has no room for her or similar minded individuals in its future if it looks to make the changes necessary to protect athletes.

  3. Amen. Thank you for providing such an articulate explanation of why these athletes should be believed and why the system needs a complete reboot. It’s so frustrating to read the comments of those coaches.

  4. I hope we hear from more gymnasts willing to speak out like Aly and Kami just did about ranch conditions so that Kelli and Mary Lee can be confronted with the reality that their experience wasn’t everyone’s experience.

  5. So Hill has now almost reached the nadir of Tracy’s little statement about Nassar. Unfuckingbelievable. Has it occurred to anyone else that she called Raisman a liar?

  6. It’s true that Sally Jenkins is a well known megabitch (I worked at SI when she was there and speak from experience) and that her little hatchet job on Dantzscher (with incidental eating-out of Bela and Retton) was one of the biggest piles of excrement ever to see print, but, to paraphrase Spencer, any port in a storm.

    1. It is still enormously frustrating that Sally Jenkins has never apologized or even acknowledged that she was one of the people propping up the Karolyis way back when. What a sleazebag. Not to defend Hill’s statements in the slightest, but I’d be pretty salty if someone who lambasted me on national news for protesting the Karolyis’ training methods was now posing as a warrior for the welfare of the athletes.

      1. Trust me, Jenkins never apologized or apologizes for any atrocity she commits.

  7. I’m sure you know this already but just to clarify that obv Brinn and Dom Cunningham were in competition for a different CWG team than Dan Purvis

  8. So appalled at this whole thread of discussion that went down. So many people just not Getting it. they were discussing why the gymnasts were so spoiled that they need 5 star hotels and were just not getting the point at all. this thread truly made my blood boil.
    and don`t get me started on Kelli Hill and MLT. I would be honestly surprised if None of their gymnasts are victims. but even if they were somehow spared, considering their coaches attitude of looking the other way, that was pure luck.

  9. I read that facebook thread and I kept waiting for there to be some kind of Grown-Up who would step in and make these idiot coaches (Kelli Hill, Mary Lee Tracy, Dallas Gust) understand how much they were MISSING THE POINT and how HORRIBLE it is that their instinct is to defend themselves first rather than stand up for gymnasts.

    But, disgustingly, they ARE the grown-ups in USAG. And that’s why so many gymnasts experienced so much trauma and abuse for so many years. The adults in charge were maintaining and perpetuating this terrible environment. Intentionally or not – that barely even matters.

  10. There’s nothing that defend these statements, but when you’re in an environment like this for so long, crazy and sick becomes normal. Sadly, Kelli Hill and co. fully believe their version of reality; to deny it would mean they would have to come to terms with the fact that were part of the problem by creating a atmosphere of stifling intimidation. Hopefully, they can see the true reality one day.

    On a much brighter note, Chuso’s vaults look cleaner and stronger than I’ve seen in years. I hope she can upgrade to make herself a medal-contender. A rudi and a Tsuk double would put her right in line with the very best in the world.

    1. I have mad respect for Chuso. I’m the same age she is, and I cannot imagine putting my body through even the simplest vault.

  11. Seriously, I feel like KH and MLT think that being at a “rustic camp” in the middle of nowhere, with no internet or cell service, is somehow acceptable for an Olympic training center for world class athletes! They deserve nothing but the best facilities, food coordinated with a registered sports dietitian, the best medical and training facilities. Instead they were supposed to suck it up and not complain about horrible food and sub-standard facilities. Because they were supposed to feel honored just to be there so they dared not complain. Nitpicking over what kind of sheets they have or what brand of yogurt is SO not the point!! SMH

  12. These old school gyms continue to this day to have the “shut up and do as I say, the coach is always right” culture. The majority of gymnasts are terrified to say anything for fear of being humiliated, including continuing to train through injuries. I suspect some of these coaches deep down think that Nassar is a victim of the media… you should ask them.

  13. I feel like the coaches were taking the word “camp” a bit too literally. It sounds like they are saying “it’s not like they were sleeping in tents and cooking over a campfire!”

  14. KH did call them liars and not just in that fb comment. Told her club gymnasts the same when the Indy story first broke. And her gym still has a fear and intimidation coaching environment. I guess you can slap a Safe Sport sticker on the door and say you’ve addressed the problem. I wish ALL these old school coaches would take a lesson from Aimee Boorman…

  15. Well, there went most of my enthusiasm for Hill. The way she treated her gymnasts even back in 1996 just seemed so much different from the Karolyis and schools of intimidation and mistakes-make-you-dead-to-me. I hope she comes around eventually.

    I do increasingly wonder if there were coaches who saw the camps for what they were and ended up elsewhere because of it – NCAA, or even another sport (cheer, T&T), like the trainer in the WaPo article. I wonder if we’ll start hearing their stories.

  16. I’ve read hundreds of interviews with former USSR gymnasts, and it’s interesting that, when asked why they were so successful, they almost always attribute their success to 1. the coaches, and 2. the facilities at Round Lake. Of course, Round Lake deteriorated during the late 90s and 00s, but prior to that, it was state-of-the-art. Their athletes had access to a range of facilities for their health and well-being (ice baths, a swimming pool, sauna etc), as well as access to medical professionals ranging from sports psychologists to nutritionists. It also seems that, in contrast to Romania and the US, their gymnasts were not starved. I will always remember an article I read with Omeliantchik. The interviewer was shocked that she was eating sweets during the interview. She replied that the competitions were far away, and that no special diet was required.

    The goal of Round Lake wasn’t to isolate or to surveil, but to bring the gymnasts together in a place where they could access everything they needed to help them succeed.

    1. Yes. The great Russians who came here to coach, Laschenova in particular (who was from the golden age of Soviet gym/Round Lake), have tended to be beloved by their students–the polar opposite of creatures like the Karolyis and MLT.

  17. I think A LOT of the coaches need to be heald to some degree of responsibility. Miss Val said in one of her blog post that Simones coach Aimee decided to remove her from one of the camps because she saw how she was being emotionally treated and didn’t want her to quit. As punishment they weren’t invited back till Simone started winning. To me this shows you were aware of the situation, enough that you took your gymnast out for fear that emotional abuse/minupulation would have a negative effect on your athlete. As an adult it is your job to speak out when something is clearly wrong. I’ve had people say, but what about the career of the girls because coaches probably didn’t want to risk it. Screw that, safety comes above all. Who knows it could have made a difference? It would suck that maybe some athletes may suffer career wise because of it, but having an unsafe environment riddled with all sorts of abuse is not worth it. Imagine what could have happened years ago if an adult stood up without fear. How many girls could have been saved.

    1. Um, they did? The Rybackis in particular and others – Hill included, I think – pushed back really hard against the camp system when it started in 2000 because they did not like how their athletes were being treated. They were told to shove it and hated on by Jenkins. It’s not like they really had any standing for legal action, so over time and with the switch from Bela to Marta they mellowed a bit. But they were loud in the beginning and their arms were twisted. They made the best of it. And now as peeved as I am at Hill’s reaction, I do feel a little bad that she and others are being forced to do a second about-face to keep coaching.

      1. Just read the article, and you know what? I don’t give a s***.

        “Hill, perhaps defensive over the China debacle, consistently objected to Karolyi’s authority, and suggested that he got too much credit, that his gymnasts are prone to fall and that his severe training regimens are “overkill.”

        Speaking up is doing something. Saying his training regimes are overkill, but still sending your gymnasts back to then time and time again, is not taking a stand. You don’t contribute a few lines to an article, that praises the Karolyi’s, and just makes them seem a bit stern, and the Americans look weak, then call it a day for almost 20 years. If anything this article just bothers me even more because it’s clear that more coaches had problems with their training methods, but when it came down to it they were still willing to bend over. I believe there were times over and over the YEARS when people could have said “No” but instead they pushed and gave up, because they believed they couldn’t do anything. But as an adult in a situation that you think is harmful you are not allowed to do that and then call yourself some sort of hero. You gotta keep fighting till your knuckles are bloodied. I think it’s clear that coaches had problems over the past few decades, the shouting should have never stopped. Garbage about the Karolyi has always been popping up, but sadly it took nassar for people to finally not sweep it back under the rug, and for gymnast to finally speak their authentic truth without fear. Because in this situation the gymnast were eventually the ones to take them down, not the ones who were supposed to be protecting them.

      2. For all we know this is how it played out:

        The coaches were told, in late 1999/early 2000, that they were failures, that the only path to success for the U.S. was through Bela, and that he was taking over. They protested. Hard. They were told by USAG that they could protest all they wanted, the only way their athletes could go to the Olympics was by doing things Bela’s way. What were the coaches supposed to do here? If they said no and didn’t go, would their athletes have gone to Sydney? Almost certainly not. Their athletes would have left their gyms and found someone else who would make the Olympics possible.

        So they went. And they resented it. And over the next fifteen years they did what they could in a hundred little ways to make the Ranch less horrible. They got Bela out and Marta in. They got a salad bar and yogurt to augment the terrible food. They got equipment for ice baths and a training room and permission for outsiders to come watch once a year. They got a guarantee that someone – in 2004 the top 2 after Trials and after that the winner of Trials – didn’t have to impress the Coordinator but was automatically on the Olympic team. They worked their butts off to get these extremely meager improvements. Because realistically, that was the only power they had.

        And if that is true, I can imagine why Aly’s statements hurt so much. I imagine the 2010 camps were much less terrible than those early 2000 camps that Aly never saw, and I imagine that is in large part due to many unpaid hours put in by coaches of national team members.

        Are they wrong? Yes, absolutely. While they were chipping away at a terrible system, actual sports medicine and psychology and nutrition was being provided to dozens of other U.S. Olympic athletes. The U.S. gymnasts deserve this or better, and I am glad we are all finally demanding they get it. But I do not think it is Kelli Hill who was keeping it from them the past 15 years.

      3. And all those coaches have had ample time (eighteen years???) to comment on the Death Camps, on what really went on at the Ranch, and since the Karolyis have probably fled the country there has been NO constraint on their free specch for quite some time now. Crickets.

    2. Yeah. I think Miss Val could tell us lots more. In fact, she SHOULD tell us lots more.

    3. RAMEN to what you say about Hill and her gutless sycophancy. What pieces of work those coaches are.

  18. If you want to read the original piece of Sally Jenkins’s that stirred up so much controversy, enjoy:

    At the time, Kelli Hill was the one calling out the Karolyis. Fascinating how times have changed. I think she is mostly feeling defensive, but it’s still not a good color on an elite coach these days.

    1. Oops, didn’t see the hyperlink in your article, Spencer. Thanks for thorough coverage!

    2. OMG that article is absolutely insane. It should be republished nationally…. was it worth it, Sally?

      1. Seriously! It adds a whole new layer of crazy to this mess. I do want to take Kelli Hill aside and point out that maybe she shouldn’t be going after athletes like Aly who were abused for years…especially when she would have a perfectly legitimate complaint against Sally Jenkins being the great shining spotlight on the conditions at the Ranch. I mean, it couldn’t have escaped her notice, right? And yet here she is attacking the girls instead.

    1. This is what happened to athletes who questioned Bela even a little. And yet we wonder why it took them so long to come forward with the much bigger accuasations about Nassar.

  19. Miss Val never stepped foot on the ranch. Anything she says is a second account, and I would rather hear first accounts. Everyone is going to have different views on the ranch. There were many different camps that happened there; it was not just the elites.

    1. If you are referring to the Aimee stuff from her blog, it was direct quotes from Aimee from the Gymcastic podcast interview she did a in I think 2016.

  20. To the 20 year olds…..15 years from now your children will most likely be able to see various quotes you have said to the media, and possibly things you have said on social media. Think about that before you slam respected coaches.

    1. I’m so sorry, but what is this referencing? Everything that has been mention about the coaches is based on fact and direct quotes. Being a respected coach doesn’t mean you are suddenly free from criticism.

  21. Two somewhat unrelated thoughts:
    1. In the long run, the only outcome for gymnastics in this country that would make me feel confident that it is being run properly is if Aly Raisman is in charge of it or plays a prominent role in running it. Nothing else. It may take us years to get to that point, but that’s what I think needs to happen.

    2. I think Kelli Hill’s consistent track record of defending the past system to the extent that she insinuates that others are liars is unacceptable. At the same time, I feel compassion and sympathy for her. She needs to embrace the future, but I imagine it isn’t easy to have the only institutions you know torn apart and everything about your approach questioned. Even if what she says is concerning, the fact that she’s participating in that thread is important & something I appreciate because it starts a dialogue. I would encourage us, as fans, not to condemn her but to keep encouraging her to see things differently & to keep talking (which I know some are).

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