The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – August 11, 2020

I wasn’t planning on doing one of these today, but…things happen.

Texas Nightmares

This week, Ashton Kim and Kennedy Baker both wrote about their experiences at Texas Dreams—or as Ashton (and everyone’s legs) refer to it, Texas Nightmares.

Both statements are worth reading in their entirety, especially as several of these tales take Texas Dreams from the territory of “ah, these are adults who did not realize the damaging effect their words and actions had on the minor gymnasts they coached and could perhaps learn…” to the territory of “OH GOD.”

I mean, I’m not sure there’s any coming back from the HARROWING story of Kim cutting Kennedy’s hair right before nationals. Dear gymnastics coaches: why are you psychotic? Asking for an everyone.

Given the gym’s injury history that we’ve all seen play out over the years, it’s not shocking news to hear about overtraining and injury problems (doesn’t make it any better, but just…duh), but what’s clear from these accounts is that the problems have run much deeper than a mismanagement of physical health. The racism. OH the racism.

If gymnasts are coming out of your gym feeling like this about their experiences, you did it wrong.

As I always say, this is far from the last we’ll hear. Texas Dreams is not an unusual gym and Kim and Chris are not unusual coaches or out of the ordinary in their approach. Keep the stories coming. It’s the only way.

Also, I know it’s not the biggest headline here, but since it’s in my wheelhouse and I’ve discussed it so much in the past…let’s get into Kennedy’s discussion of the Florida floor lineup strategy.

I always defended Florida’s floor lineups because of strategic efficacy. All those 9.925s and 9.950s that Bridgey Caquatto got anchoring floor—were they truly based on the merits of the routine? Not always! That was effective use of lineups and effective awareness of lineup bias and college judging nonsense.

But Kennedy is accurate in pointing out what I hadn’t seen, that it typically was the black women being put in the position of lifting up the scores of others. It’s Kennedy Baker, it’s Kytra Hunter, it’s Alicia Boren, it’s Trinity Thomas. Admittedly not always always—I think Bridget Sloan was used for the same purpose on floor and there was a time at the end of her junior year when Kennedy was anchoring floor—but the overall trend is there. She’s not imagining things.

And it’s very valid to ask why this strategy wasn’t undertaken in a couple other circumstances. Alex McMurtry was the best vaulter on those Florida teams, and she too could have scored a 10 at other positions in the lineup, but she had that anchor spot sewn up and was not used to lift up the vault scores of, say, a Kennedy Baker in the same way that Baker and Hunter were used on floor.

Now, it may well be a situation where those coaches, like me, legitimately didn’t see it until this exact moment when it was pointed out by someone who lived it, but that’s why a main issue Kennedy brings up with regard to Florida is so important. There must be an environment where, if someone says, “Listen up buttheads, the floor lineup is racist,” she isn’t treated like the squeaky wheel who’s causing drama.

If there are 17 of the CLOSEST SISTER TEAMMATES on one side of a team issue and 2 on the other, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those 2 are the “problems” that need to be addressed. It might just be the 17. And if the “team issue” in question is obvious racism like in these stories Kennedy relates, then it’s definitely not the people experiencing the obvious racism who need to be met with so that TEH CHAMPIONSHIP can be won.

So, anyway. There’s that.

I leave you with the palate cleanser of Chellsie Memmel doing a pit-manar.

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