Things Are Happening – November 6, 2018

A. USAG, please pack your knives and go

Can’t a fandom just have one measly second after worlds to decompress?

Apparently not. On Monday, the USOC’s new CEO Sarah Hirshland sent an open letter to the gymnastics community in which she announced that she has been in this position for 11 seconds and is already so sick of USAG’s big bag of bullshit that she might have to spontaneously turn inside out and live the rest of her life as an exposed spleen, so she can only imagine what the rest of us have been dealing with.

And by that, I mean she’s beginning the extremely rare process of removing USA Gymnastics as the national governing body for gymnastics in the US.


To clarify, this announcement is just the opening step and doesn’t mean that USA Gymnastics has been decertified just yet. The USOC will now assemble a three-person panel to conduct a hearing, after which the panel will report to the USOC board, and the board will vote on the ultimate course of action.

Still, this entire process is governed by the USOC, so the CEO would not have initiated it blindly and would not have initiated it without a specific outcome in mind. The USOC intends to decertify USA Gymnastics.

This is a massive move, one I honestly did not think would come because it’s just so drastic and will have so many repercussions for the sport especially on a local, non-elite level—repercussions that we haven’t even begun to work through yet.

But it’s nonetheless absolutely necessary.

At its heart, the fundamental failure of USAG post-Nassar was an unwillingness or inability—from the corporate leadership all the way down through the veteran coaches—to look at itself and say, “We did a bad job. The thing we have spent our entire careers dedicated to? It was bad. We did it the wrong way. It was exploitative and demeaning and vicious, and our legacy will be as the bad guys. This is all of our faults, all of our responsibility, and we need to change.”

Or, in the words of Kristen DeCosta, “Gymnastics is fucked.”

Unable to countenance such a drastic ego-blow and such bare self-examination, USAG instead folded in on itself and its foundation of arrogance. The only aim was to avoid the admittance of wrongdoing, to protect the legal and financial standing of the organization and its reputation (as if that’s something anyone cares about), and as a result it turned to viewing survivors as adversaries who want to DESTROY ITS GREATNESS and viewing status in its little cabal of “trust” as the ultimate qualification, no matter how much sexual abuse you’ve helped cover up or defend.

Rather than admitting the failure of USAG and accepting the necessity of improving athlete treatment and changing a culture of unprofessional backdoor deals and cronyism, American gymnastics wanted only one thing—for the fury and public attention to die down so that everyone could go back to doing exactly what they’ve always done, with no one paying attention.

That attitude wasn’t going to change—spoiler alert: Ron Galimore still works there and unvetted trash people keep getting hired—so there was only one recourse remaining, to burn it down.

Here’s what USAG never understood: The increased attention? The explosions in leadership? The crumbling of old pillars? That was a gift. It was a golden opportunity to change the policies and conventions and people that weren’t working, that were out of date, that could get better. But USAG was never able to view it as a gift, only as an obstacle, a burden, a storm to be weathered rather than one bringing spring and rebirth metaphors or whatever literary slop you prefer.

In part, USA Gymnastics was never able to view this as a gift because it was never able to get itself together to do…anything. USAG’s most compelling and everlasting foundational identity is, and has always been, incompetence. Especially in the last couple years, with all of these piecemeal staffing changes, USAG has become an ant farm of differing agendas, keeping-your-job panic, and miscommunication, one that could barely organize who’s bringing plates for the birthday party let alone the hiring of a qualified leader or, say, a sport-wide culture shift.

When trying to make sense of the failures of USAG, I always have to remember that at its core, maybe USAG is just a bunch of not-so-smart people who failed upward and all hate each other and their lives and physically cannot do anything useful.

I was not always among those who favored the drastic step of decertification, but the multiple years of making the same damn mistakes have worn me down. In the past, I’ve argued it’s better to stay with USA Gymnastics because we already had the organization under a microscope of intense scrutiny, which allowed the public to shut down any of these stupid hiring stunts in a matter of days instead of letting any and all behavior slide as had happened in the past.

But we can’t just keep doing that forever. And USAG is so intractable that we’d have to do it for literally ever. There’s no other choice.

Still, I would caution against viewing the process of eliminating USAG as a manifestly positive solution. This route is now necessary because all other less serious avenues have been exhausted—and it does provide a new opportunity to rewrite the culture and turn gymnastics into a model for all other Olympic sports—but it’s just as possible that things could get even worse from here.

Does a new organization mean new people? New approaches? New influences? Not necessarily. Or would it just be called “Gymnastics USA” instead of “USA Gymnastics” and star Mary Lee Tracy in a series of different wigs? If done lazily, a new organization could very easily end up being just as ugly as USAG but without the organizational infrastructure, yet with a longer leash afforded by “they’re new, give them a chance”-style forgiveness.

Part of that fear comes from the involvement of the USOC. Don’t think you can waltz in and pretend to be the savior, USOC. We see you. You are no more worthy of trust than USAG and are just as culpable. That the USOC finally decided to cut and run to protect its own image from the unending stream of bad publicity that is USA Gymnastics doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that it’s invested in making things better for athletes.

And what does this mean for athletes in the short term? I have no earthly idea. I think worries about the top echelon of elite artistic competition are unfounded—the USOC will step in and send ensure athletes are sent to Stuttgart and Tokyo—but beyond that…? At the state level? In the non-artistic disciplines? (It’s telling that the USOC waited until to do this after artistic worlds but not T&T worlds.) It’s going to get worse for a while. And we have to be OK with that. We have to go into the crevasse to ever hope to get out.

B. None-Olympia

In a move with fitting simultaneity, All-Olympia announced that it is closing its Hawthorne location. You know, because of the “negativity” and the “rumors.” Not the lawsuits or anything.

Side note: If you ever hear anyone complaining about how there’s so much negativity in gymnastics right now, they’re the negativity in gymnastics right now.

All-Olympia is the gym where McKayla Maroney and Mattie Larson were “coached,” and…that’s basically all I need to tell you about why it’s closing and why literally no one is sad about it, right? Right. There are many rotten corners.

Also, if you’re a fan of dark humor, please read this abysmal garbage letter. The sheer arrogance. The “we.” I cannot.

C. Just to leave on an exciting note

The entry list for the Cottbus world cup is out and it’s LEGIT. This will be the first of the eight individual apparatus world cup qualifiers to the Olympics, and I’ve never been more excited for a world cup event. Which was the FIG’s whole plan.

To review, athletes will attempt to gain ranking points at eight events running from now until early 2020, with the best three results counting, and the winner of each event at the end of the process will qualify to the Olympics. This is the ranking point distribution for each competition:

Many nations and athletes that have not yet qualified will be covering their bases by competing in these early world cups because you just don’t know what’s going to happen later.

Qualification begins on November 22.

D. GymCastic

We have much to keep you occupied:

10 daily podcasts from worlds? YEP.

9 video watch-alongs? YEP.

It’s like worlds never has to end!

41 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – November 6, 2018”

  1. Thanks Spencer for your always-insightful commentary on the dumpster fire situation.

  2. I have so many questions about decertification. I’m really worried about JO gymnasts in general and what happens to their season which is about to begin.

    But also, in terms of elite gymnastics, people seem to be shrugging it off and saying the USOC will send people to worlds/olympics, but doesn’t FIG have control of that somewhat? FIG has to recognize the NGA of each country, according to something I read, and they recognize USAG as the NGA of the US. So, once the USOC decertifies USAG and it ceases to be the NGA of US gymnastics, there won’t be a recognizable NGA by FIG, right? Won’t the USOC will have to put in place another NGA and the FIG will have to vote to recognize it before we can send athletes to a competition? And this includes athletes in rhythmic and T&T. I think the T&T worlds athletes right now are fine because it will take some time before certification actually happens, but otherwise. So no one can go to any competitions until a new NGA is recognized by FIG, correct? And this means no World Cups for Jade? And potentially no other qualifying meets for the US in terms of additional olympic spots? I mean, we still need to get two more spots somehow. So many questions…

    1. I keep saying NGA, but it’s definitely NGB. Whoops. I was thinking Authority instead of Body. Sorry! But my questions remain!

    2. I imagine the situation would be similar to when the U.S.S.R. broke up and the Unified teams were created as a stop gap and also how Russia athletes weren’t allowed to compete under the ‘Russia’ name.

      In 2020 it could be the women’s artistic AA champion is – Simone Biles of the state of Texas (I think that’s where she’s from) in the United States of America. Does Texas have an anthem?

      1. Well Texas was its own country for like 3 years in the past, so they would love that. Haha. Don’t know about the anthem.

      2. Texas official state song: Texas Our Texas
        Unofficial state song: The stars at night, are big and bright CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP deep in the heart of Texas!

  3. Looking at the Cottbus entry list: Marcel Nguyen not doing PB? Sophie Scheder not doing UB? Andrey Medvedev is probably pulling out? Yang Hakseon is back? Why is Russia sending Dmitrii Lankin and Liliia Akhaimova when they’re not eligible for Olympic qualification? Jade Carey & Chuso doing all events? No beam for Fan Yilin? SO MANY QUESTIONS

    1. Maybe there’s a limit of two gymnasts per apparatus? That would at least be an explanation for Scheder not doing bars with Seitz and Bui already covering that..

    2. The entry list is dated 19.10 – before worlds. So we do not really know if Lankin and Akhaimova will go. If they go then this will be like relaxing after worlds, much like Melnikova-Nagornyi at Swiss Cup and Gander Memorial. Paseka has not been medically cleared yet to compete.

    3. I’m wondering why there’s a maximum of two athletes per apparatus for each nation even when there’s more than two athletes? See Brazil’s WAG for an example.

      Speaking of Brazil, where is Diego Hypolito? I thought he was going to skip Worlds so he could go through the World Cup route. And I’m not sure why Andrade and Saraiva need to go since they would not be likely excluded from the team if healthy.

  4. AOGC: they’re only closing one ‘location’ of their gym? Is it their elite programme that’s closing, are their other locations still going? I’m confused as to how much of their business is actually failing …

  5. That Kristen DeCosta article is SO messed up. A quick Google search tells me she competed for Iowa State, and graduated not too long ago. WHY is no one holding the coaches at Iowa State accountable for such rampant abuse? Why has the media not picked up on this like they did for Penn State and Stanford?

    Not every NCAA program is like that… right?!

    1. Sadly, it’s much more common than you think…and girls don’t say anything because the coaches do exactly what Kristen said in her article…and you’ll notice articles like hers are usually written after the gymnast has graduated …because they will be threatened with retaliation if they do it while there….and some even after they leave like Briley Casanova , who wrote a blog after she left and a few days later issued a “it was a misunderstanding “post afterwards basically saying none of it happened (because someone at Michigan got to her)

      1. Jesus, I had no idea this was so prevalent. As a huge NCAA fan it’s really upsetting, especially because the vast majority of college gymnasts appear to be having the time of their lives.

      2. P.S. I didn’t know about Briley Casanova either. Are there any other blog posts/cases of gymnasts publicly sharing their negative experiences we should know about? I want to learn as much about this as I can. Simply devastating.

      3. I remember Briley’s blog post implied the women on the Michigan gymnastics team were a group of ‘Mean Girls’ who would treat new gymnasts or those whom they decided not to like (for no apparent reason except they needed to be horrible to someone).

  6. Are the traveling alternates from the US, Russia and China also not able to qualify through the Apparatus World Cups? Just noticed Daria Spiridonova on the list, though Akhaimova is on there as well, so I guess that doesn’t mean all that much…

    1. No, the rules say to be ineligible they must have been be an “active” member of the team i.e. competed and received a score at Worlds.

  7. Thank you so much for your insight on the situation, Spencer.

    I was having a post-worlds sadness but this entry list for Cottbus is so exciting !!

  8. Very worries about the impact the USOC’s decision will have on the survivors lawsuit. At least while USAG was trying to stay in the game they had an incentive to negotiate and settle the lawsuit. And even if they didn’t there would be still money coming in to help pay anything awarded after trial. But now it will be all to easy for them to declare bankruptcy leaving the kids with nothing once again. As executives walked out with big payouts I am sure.

    1. The money is frozen (or it should be) when there are lawsuits ongoing in a business that is failing. The executives wouldn’t be allowed to take any big payouts until the lawsuits are settled and bills are paid.

      Creditors (bill collectors get first dibs)
      Then anything left over is divided among the people in the lawsuit (s) – assuming they won.

      I assume USAG is a not-for-profit setup so top executives would be low on the podium to collect – board members of a not-for-profit aren’t usually being paid (they do the job because they’re qualified) except for a CEO/speaker who runs the meetings.

  9. Even if the garbage fire that is USAG is decertified, I hope I won’t have to pay my athlete membership registration fee or something cause I already paid it once this year and I don’t want to do it again.

  10. Decertify USAG if they must, but if they take Tom Forster away from these girls I, personally, will riot. He has done nothing but a bang-up job so far and they’ve been through more than enough.

    1. I think Tom Forster is safe. He’s an appropriate person to lead the elite women’s artistic program during this period – he was around for a long time but not really involved or known like some of the other more tainted coaches and clubs, but he knows all of those people and can maintain the appropriate relationships with them so the current gymnasts aren’t hurt (no pun intended) and can continue pursuing their dreams.

      But Forster in basically an interim leader who will eventually transition in the next leader – when this happens though who knows? He’ll keep the position (assuming no scandals) for 2020 and possibly 2024 and then a new leader should be brought in to work with him for a year or two before taking over completely. At least this is what I would do.

      What I am interested in is if the number of elites there will be in the 2020 to 2024 quad – these would be the girls who right now are making the decisions between elite and stay at Level 10 and focus on NCAA – many parents may decide to do the latter for their daughters, which might mean the selection group is smaller than usual. We’ll see…

      1. I too am very worried about the long-term impact this crisis will have on the sport. The elite program, for example, draws huge strength from the sheer depth of the field. What impact will decertification have on depth for the fields in 2024? 2028?

  11. Interesting fact: The caliber of gymnasts competing UB at the Cottbus World Cup is MORE COMPETITIVE than the Worlds UB final… Daria Spirodonova, Nina Derwael, Jonna Adlerterg, Sophie Scheder, Kim Bui, Diana Varinska, AND MORE.

    1. Will the videos be uploaded to youtube? Or where can we find them? I have never been more excited for a world cup final than this.

  12. Random thought: a female Democrat won election in a heavily Republican Oklahoma City district. Did the #MeToo movement and high profile gymnastics controversy play any role over there? I know Bart and Nadia are like royalty in Oklahoma…

    1. My daughter attends Oklahoma U. She says most people there (that she is friends with, anyway) HATE Trump. OU is in that same district, so it could be a combination…

  13. As a lawyer I would be terrified of creating new organisation. It is soooo much work. I dont think it’s the best solution because it will take a lot of time. I know that there are a lot of bad people in USAG but starting over is such a big deal. Imagine that nothing works. Just the smallest step as registering your g can take months. And it can take weeks just to come up with procedures like that. Also who will decide what the organisation is going to be like? What if there are 2 people who found 2 different organisations? #somanyquestions

    1. Yes, it will be a lot of work, but it’s not like no one has ever created a new Olympic organization before. New sports are added all the time and I bet that sometimes there are multiple organizations involved and only one can be chosen as the Olympic organization.

      I was once involved with something similar on a very small scale. I took riding lessons at a stable on public land and the organizing body had become corrupt, belligerent, and broke its own rules. The Park Service completely restructured the agreement with the stables and invited proposals. I was on the board of one of the proposal bodies as a warm body who could be discreet.

      The group I worked with was really impressive. I remember at one point talking about fire safety which led to no water supply, which led to one person saying, off the top of their head, that the water mains only ran out to (Exact Point) and there were (So Many Feet) between that and the stables at (Price Per Foot). Off the top of her head.

      They ended up with a 400 page proposal that was all meat. They were worried that the proposal by the baddies could win, and all I could do was look at what they done, and tell them that if another proposal beat theirs, it would be someone else who deserved it.

      They won, and it was worth it. The baddies hung around for a short while, then left. Things were much better and much more accessible to the public after that.

      Which is to say, yes, it will be an enormous amount of work and very stressful, and *certainly* time-consuming. But when things are this bad? It’s an opportunity to rebuild. The good guys might not win, but it opens the door for them.

    1. DERWAEL VS FAN vs Spiridonova, Adlerteg, Seitz, Bui…!! Omg DREAM bars final (except can they also send Aliya pls).

      Also, I NEED Jade Carey to compete at Cottbus, so the USOC and USAG better get their shit together to make sure that happens. I was so bummed that we didn’t get to see her at Worlds this year. I know not everyone is a fan bc of the artistry issue, but the sheer power in her tumbling and vaulting (well-controlled too!) blows me away. My hope is that Tom Forster can help get her some dance lessons and a better choreographer; she deserves it.

  14. There isn’t anything to celebrate about USOC starting the decertification process. I think this will encourage the USAG to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy stays the decertification process and makes it harder for victims to get remuneration.

    1. Since she’s the only WAG athlete for the USA team to go this route (so far), why not give herself multiple chances to qualify for an Olympic spot, even if some are more likely (VT and FX) than others (UB and BB)? Since USAG is limiting the funding to three cups, and she has to place Top 2 on an event to finish the three cups, she’s covering her bases.

    2. It gives her experience competing all 4 events in an international setting.
      Jade hasn’t disqualified herself from making the actual 4 member Tokyo team. She is still in the running for that. If she can upgrade her UB a bit more she should be right in the mix. Her BB was very solid this season. A Tokyo team of Lee, Biles, Hurd, Carey would slay. All would do AA in prelims, with Hurd and Biles doing TF AA. Carey on FX/VT in TF, Lee on UB/BB. You could even had Jade in the anchor position on UB, and not actually compete if the previous 3 hit routines above anything she would score.
      There is your gold medal winning team.

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