USAG announced today that everything is totally fine and fixed, so you should stop asking questions and also bye.
And by that, I mean that Tom Forster has been selected as the new National Team Coordinator. Or, sorry, the new High-Performance Team Coordinator. Because that makes it all different and better. Nothing to see here. The performance is going to be so high. You won’t believe how high the performance will be.
Fans of the 90s will remember Forster of Colorado Aerials as the coach of Theresa Kulikowski, Kristy Powell and Doni Thompson—and Kerri Strug for a hot minute during her whistle-stop tour of America. Since then, he has held a lower-profile and more behind-the-scenes role in the elite coaching scene, and he was not the primary elite coach for the recent athletes from Colorado Aerials who may have been on your radar (Emily Muhlenhaupt, Kiersten Wang, Sharaya Musser).
That, quite honestly, could have been an influencing factor in the decision. He hasn’t had an opportunity to be publicly horrible in quite some time, which already put him on the high end of the list of candidates. And that seems to be the general reaction from within the gymnastics community—”it could have been worse”—what with names like Peggy Liddick floating around, and all. The consensus: he’s the best of the available options. The national team coaches seem to be optimistic about Forster, which means he will be given a chance rather than being thrown to the wolves immediately after the announcement. But of course, the proof will be in the…not being an aggressively ego-driven abusive maniac? Just that. We’re asking so much, I know. Stay cautious, my friends.
It may be unfair, but USAG has taught us to mistrust its process and automatically mistrust anyone it might think is suitable. Kerry Perry likes you? Well then what’s wrong with you?
For me, even the hiring of the world’s most amazing person in this position would be fraught with issues because the position itself is a problem. It puts too much power in a single person’s approach, which leads to tunnel vision and my-way-or-the-highway decision making, regardless of who that person is. Selector and judge and coach and teacher and advocate and hall monitor and dream-breaker all at the same time? Those roles don’t always go together. I’m hoping to see the announcement of some more separation of duties and responsibilities (selection vs. coaching vs. safety) as Forster slides into the role.
The focus of the national team camps should also become less about pouring a dozen more coaches on the problem and more about providing resources the athletes don’t have access to in their home gyms—psychological, nutritional, etc. Camps should be a learning opportunity, not a Hunger Game. If it were only about verification and selection, then just make it a straightforward competition and be done with it. A training camp can (and should) be something different, where evaluation is part of the process, but only part.
In that regard, Forster certainly said all the right words in his initial announcement—teach, support, athletes, positivity, voice—but of course anyone would say those things. That doesn’t tell us anything yet, and there will be concerns about selecting anyone who sharpened his teeth as a member of the elite coaching crew of the mid-90s where “aggressively ego-driven abusive maniac” was like the whole thing. Pretty sure it was in the handbook. Picking someone from that era doesn’t exactly scream “MOVING FORWARD FRESH START.”
(Also, Will Graves asked him about video of verification, and he stayed on that same old nonsensical line about GIVING AWAY THE PRECIOUS AMERICAN SECRETS TO THE COMMIES, which was not ideal.)
For us fans, most of what we remember about Tom and Lori Forster comes from three things that all occurred in 1996, which is a long time ago.
1) His performance after Kulikowski fell on compulsory beam at 96 Trials.
2) Whatever the crap this was.
3) That bizarre fluff piece from the 1996 American Cup (I accidentally said it was from Trials on this week’s GymCastic, but you get the idea) where NBC decided to present him with a narrative of “this nice coach who has this weird strategy where you’re not supposed to be a giant asshole, HOW WEIRD” and where he was Sister Mary Full of Sass about Kerri Strug and also every gymnast.
Hey, that’s my job.
Yeah, this is going to need a full recap. It is such an aggressively upsetting example of NBC’s Cult of the Coaches, Gymnasts as Wind-up Dolls to Do Your Bidding era—one that unfortunately had lasting influence on the attitudes of so many coaches.
These memories we have of that era are why—to gain popular support in this position—Forster will have to prove that the coaching of the 90s and that way of speaking about gymnasts is not what he’s about. He’ll have to show by example a recognition that it is not about him, that it’s not his OLYMPIC DREAM, that the goal of your life shouldn’t be to IMPRESS him, that opportunities are earned by athletes rather than bestowed by his blessed generosity, and that…like…safety and oversight and professional boundaries and transparency are concepts that exist, or whatever.
So yes. We shall see.