Things Are Happening – September 9, 2020

A. Gymnast Alliance

Yesterday, a big gymnast alliance furor developed over the news that Ellie Downie’s complaint of weight-shaming in British gymnastics—including that she was told to lose 6kg over two weeks and that she was told to send daily photos of herself in her underwear to prove her diet—has not been upheld. Which is British for denied.

The English Institute of Sport went on to say, “Bruf bruf procedures bruf bruf bruf,” but I have more questions than that. Like, for instance, [Pauline Tratz yelling EXPLANATION PLEASE dot gif].

The behavior that Ellie Downie describes here is patently unacceptable, so if the complaint was not upheld, what’s the implication there? That you’re claiming that Ellie is lying? Or, that you’re claiming what she was asked to do was OK? Or, that you don’t have enough evidence to proceed? What?

These sport organizations have done far too little to earn trust for anyone to simply accept “we looked into our behavior, and it turns out that shhhh” as a satisfactory or complete answer, and the coldly bureaucratic dismissal of this complaint will only impede efforts to improve the sport. Why would anyone bother putting themselves through the strain of making a complaint about the painful way things are done if the only predictable outcome is a closed door?

But even beyond the findings in this case, the big issue at play is the very simple desire for governing bodies like British Gymnastics, like the EIS, like USA Gymnastics, like the USOPC, to spend a little less time bending over backwards trying to cover themselves or hiding behind some internal self-review that proves their great innocence and a little more time…just not wanting the athletes to feel like this?

Regardless of what you found in this case, don’t you…not want the athletes to feel like this, British Gymnastics?

Meanwhile, in response to all the posts about Cincinnati Gymnastics last week, Mary Lee Tracy posted some tragic nonsense about how it was god’s will for her to call Alexis Beucler a fat lard or something, and it doesn’t need to be read ever.

B. The Slow Trudge Toward Death (aka NCAA Gymnastics News)

Last week, William and Mary followed the lead of several other college gymnastics programs and announced that it will be shuttering both the women’s and men’s gymnastics teams following the 2021 season.

That means that if the 2021 season happens as a concept, there will still be 81 teams (with the introduction of LIU and the departure of Seattle Pacific), but then for the 2022 season, we would be down to 79 teams, with the departures of Alaska and William and Mary.

As we’re learning, in these challenging times, it’s truly impossible for athletic departments to maintain both their caviar budgets and gymnastics teams. Such a tough position.

Next day update: As Mike Burns had hinted about around the time of the Iowa news, the Minnesota men’s team is going the same way as Iowa and will be dissolved after the 2021 season.

Speaking of the possible 2021 season, I really enjoyed Jay Clark’s response about how we can’t have virtual meets because then the judges would be judging from a “sterile environment” as if that’s a bad thing. (No, Jay, we want the judges evaluating routines from a sterile environment, it would be a nice change).

The coaches won’t say the actual, real reason we can’t conduct virtual meets for the college gymnastics season: uh, half these teams can’t get their acts together to provide live scores, so what makes you think they could produce an entire virtual meet? It would be a disaster. “I’m sorry, tonight’s meet has been postponed because no one knows the password to the arena wifi and judge Gloria-Ellen can’t figure out what a Zoom is.”

Also, I had been hesitating in putting together the freshman playlists for this season because…is she real? But there’s nothing else to do, so I started things off with the SEC freshman playlist.

C. Actual Gymnasticals

We’re still on Impatient Upcoming Competition Watch, but the Chinese women did participate in an internal test—which is much better terminology than verification, and the US women should adopt it.

Anyway, your only hope for a brighter future Ou Yushan is a new senior this year and did this.

At the internal test, Ou won the all-around, with world silver medalist Tang Xijing in second, and another new senior and beam star Guan Chenchen in third. Guan Chenchen has become a gymternet favorite because she’s such a delightful nebula, but it’s going to be important for her to recreate this kind of all-around result at nationals in two weeks to show she could legitimately be on a Chinese Olympic team.

Basically, my very tentative frontrunners for the main Olympic team right now would be Ou YS and Tang XJ. Ou is the latest in a long line of “she’s going to be the next big thing!!” new Chinese seniors, and we all know they don’t always pan out, but she’s just so damn good. As in, if I had to pick my Olympic AA silver medalist right now, it would be her. Tang has experienced a sudden rise after making the most of her last-minute entry into the would AA final (recall she finished just 21st in qualification because of a rough beam), so it’s still important that she continue backing that result up, but it looks like she’s doing that so far.

Li Shijia was supposed to be the breakout star at worlds last year (at least according to me) until Tang was like, “actually sweetie…” but Li does have the chops to be one of the nation’s top AA finishers. If at full all-around strength, you’d also certainly want Liu Tingting on that team of four, but if not, she’d be a possibility to do beam in a +1 individual role alongside the bars of Fan Yilin, who will get a +1 spot from the apparatus world cups. “Where does that leave Chen Yile?” is a valid question to which the answer is currently shrug emoji. She’d need to knock out Li SJ as an AAer, or be the top beam option as a +1. If she’s in good form, that’s possible for her. She was the Ou Yushan of a couple years ago, after all. Chen complemented Qi Qi on the world’s team last year, but that’s harder to do with only four spots.

Speaking of Qi Qi, she finished fifth in the vault final at worlds last year and could be an option for an individual spot with those vaults—or a team spot if China feels light on vault. We typically expect China to be light on vault, but if they already have DTYs from Ou YS, Tang XJ, and Li SJ, they may not feel like they’re getting quite enough of a boost from Qi Qi’s vault to render her necessary for the team. What makes the generation of gymnasts who have turned senior in 2019 and 2020 different is that most of them also have viable vault and floor scores (see Ou’s Silivas above), which gives China more flexibility in naming teams and less need to be like, “oh crap we have to save a spot for a vaulter.”

This current outlook is why other new seniors like Guan Chenchen or Wei Xiaoyuan (who did quite well on bars and beam at junior worlds last year and placed ahead of Guan in the AA there) will be eager for a strong all-around finish at nationals to stake a claim in this difficult group, one that is talented enough to win Olympic team silver and should have that goal.

Here is the broadcast schedule for Chinese nationals:

Elsewhere, Ukraine is doing a nationals, and on the men’s side Oleg had the top score in qualification, followed closely by Pakhniuk.

Meanwhile, Chellsie Memmel is NOT doing a Patterson, OKKKKKK? But she is working a layout double Arabian.

43 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – September 9, 2020”

  1. For context, 6kg translates to a little over 13 pounds. Aka a totally unreasonable number of pounds—not that any number is reasonable, but that’s asking for a little under a pound per day of weight loss.

    1. That kind of weight loss can only be achieved with very unhealthy methods. On the physical level, not to mention the strong likelihood of long term ED as a result.
      Bless Beckie for being so supportive and counteracting the body shaming coming from coaches. Sister goals.

      Thanks for the conversion.

      1. I think a coach should never comment on a gymnasts body, not to say they are too heavy or even “wow you lost weight you look wonderful”.
        Having read aly’s book, she said she worked with a sports nutritionist who worked with her to learn to listen to her body and eat when she is hungry. Also he looked at her menstrual cycle and worked on getting it where it should be. They never talked about her weight, because it was irrelevant.
        So I think athletes, every high level female athlete in fact, should be seeing a sports nutritionist seperate from the gym. That would be ideal.

    2. It is entirely acceptable for a coach to tell a high-level athlete that she needs to lose weight, if in fact the athlete does. The problem is telling them to do it in an unsafe way and with more of a focus on the numbers on the scale than on body composition/fitness.

      1. Depends who gets to decide what the target weight is too. All too often it has been based only on subjective ideals of beauty.

      2. This is where the huge difficulty lies. Weight is such a personal and often painful thing for gymnasts that sometimes even the most compassionate and evidence-based discussions about weight can be devastating. At the same time, NOT bringing up a weight concern can put the gymnast at risk if they are doing skills and routines that their body is struggling with.

        So my question is what is the right approach to telling a gymnast they need to lose weight? Even the most fact-based reason can sound harsh and mean i.e. “you’d get more lift and have more energy by the end of the routine if you lost a little weight.”

        I ask because I legitimately don’t know how this is supposed to be approached. Obviously the methods used by some coaches were/are totally unacceptable but coaches also have an obligation to keep gymnasts safe, which includes making sure their bodies are physically ready for the gymnasts they are doing.

      3. I would start indirectly. How about “I think your strength to weight ratio is hurting your performance/stamina on some of your skills. Let’s think about some ways that we can improve it.” Brainstorm a strength training and conditioning regime first – ideally asking for the athlete to give suggestions. After covering the need to improve strength, “Losing weight could also help, but it’s very important that you balance any weight loss with muscle maintenance. Being thinner won’t be helpful to your gymnastics if you lose muscle tone or conditioning. So if you want to try dieting or conditioning aimed at weight loss, let’s talk about it first, or you can visit a nutritionist or trainer, so we can make sure it’s healthy.”

        Depending on the athlete, I’d also point out that I think they *look* fine, but it’s their inability to get height/hold their shape/whatever that is making me worried about their strength:weight ratio.

        Now, maybe you have an athlete who won’t recognize for themselves that their weight is holding them back. In that case I’d just keep them training whatever skills they can safely do, because a lower-level, unsuccessful gymnast who is mentally healthy is better than a gymnast who is winning meets and has a lifelong battle with disordered eating ahead of them.

      4. As a coach (of lower-level competitive gymnasts, not elites), I don’t see an occasion where I would ever comment on my gymnasts’ weight. As a group, preteen and teenage girls are already hyper-aware of their weight, and they already know that in gymnastics, being shorter and lighter is helpful for certain flipping skills. They do NOT need me to tell them that. In fact, I think my job is to do the opposite, to convince them that strong bodies come in different shapes and sizes.

        Last night, a couple of my girls were commenting on a very thin little girl in a basics class, and I stopped them, explaining that she was within earshot and they didn’t need to be commenting on another athlete’s body. They immediately defended themselves with, “But we’re saying good things! You’re supposed to want to be thin!” I said, “Why?” and they didn’t have much response to that other than “skinny=good.”

        I guess my point is, in what world are we in that any high-level gymnast wouldn’t already be attending to her diet and exercise? When is it ever really the case that a gymnast gets “too large” to do high level skills? We see how athletes can leave the elite world, go to college, their bodies develop, and they still have amazing skills. Do we know of any elite athletes that actually quit the sport because they gained too much weight? Or is it much more likely the case that their bodies were frail and fragile and they had too many injuries?

      5. I’m with Melanie above that it is never acceptable for a coach to comment on weight. The “safety” stuff is such bullshit and a total cop out. I coached people at a very wide variety of weights (also at a low competitive level) and really, the biggest limitation re weight was that I could not safely spot someone who was heavier. So we had to design other drills and methods that didn’t require spotting and stay within the limits of her capability. That’s it. Not comment on her weight.

      6. So what you’re saying is, “I have never coached athletes at an elite level and therefore have no goddamn idea how to handle talking about weight with them, so my opinion is irrelevant.”

        The safety stuff is not a cop-out, it’s entirely legit, and shame on you for suggesting otherwise. There *are* safe ways to encourage gymnasts to be at peak fitness, particularly those who might be coming back from an injury and already know that they need to get back into competitive shape.

      7. Well, I’ve trained with elites, so I have an idea of what it takes. I’ve literally never seen a gymnast who was too overweight to train safely. I think it’s an excuse by coaches.

        And Anon @10:58, I’ve yet to see what credentials you have. Judging by your defensiveness, though, I would guess that you’re a coach that tells their gymnasts to lose weight. So you’ve lost me.

      8. Anon @10:58
        You’re right, I’m not an elite-level coach. However, even an elite-level coach is just that — a coach. NOT a medical health professional, NOT a dietitian or nutritionist. So, what magically gives them the know-how to instruct a gymnast how to safely lose weight (or even the ability to say when an athlete might need to lose weight)? What we’ve seen time and again is that coaches have encouraged their athletes to lose weight in very unhealthy ways that have led to those athletes developing disordered eating. Not to mention that there is no overall handbook on what body type is “safest” to perform certain skills. Even a few years ago, we would have said that a gymnast is going to peak at 16-18 years old, and yet here come athletes like Simone, MyKayla, and Chellsie Memmel to blow that out of the water. All coaches – whether elite-level or not – have to adapt and change what we know as the environment changes and improves. Gymnasts are telling us RIGHT NOW that the sport’s approach to weight is unhealthy and has been damaging to their physical and mental health.

      9. Anon @11:11 – ding dong, you are wrong. I don’t coach gymnastics. I *was*, however, a gymnast (and not even a high-level one!) who was told as a kid that my weight was impacting my ability to get the skills I wanted and I needed to improve my fitness if I wanted to get said skills.

        Guess what? I know there’s an appropriate way to talk about it *because I’ve been on the other end of it*. Surprise – I lost the weight, got my skills, and was a much happier and healthier gymnast overall because my coach knew what she was doing.

        The mere fact that you think “it’s an excuse by coaches”, however, takes away any credibility you might have whatsoever. Bye.

      10. Anonymous@7:15–‘ding dong’ is a complete and accurate description of your utterly imbecilic trollery. You’ve been politely schooled and mortified by several posters here; let me do the heavy lifting. You’re a cunt with zero knowledge of gymnastics, coaching, dietary theory, nutrition, or anything else. Fuck off and die!

    3. anon at 7:15-
      i was a gymnast too and under no circumstances did my coach ever talk about our bodies. weight loss should only be left to doctors and dieticians, period. coaches have surface level knowledge but it is not enough when you’re coaching impressionable teens that need top tier advice.
      btw, if you’re being rude, no one’s going to take you seriously

  2. I think Qi Qi could still be in potential running for a spot on the four-person team- she’s intending on doing an Amanar + Cheng combo, and her floor should be a good compliment to OYS’s. Qualifications may be a little terrifying with the 4/3/3 format, but it would be interesting

  3. Tang Xijing and Ou Yushan can both do AA in a team final for China especially with Tang Xijing’s two new floor passes. There is another athlete doing a Silivas on floor too (either Guan Chenchen or Qi Qi) and since they both have at least a DTY on vault whichever one has the Silivas would be a good VT/FX option. That leaves the fourth spot for someone like Liu Tingting or Wei Xiaoyuan. The second individual spot is the hardest to predict because Guan Chenchen, Qi Qi, Li Shijia, Chen Yile, Yin Sisi, Liu Tingting, and Yu Linmin are all in the mix

  4. Totally unreasonable and ridiculous to ask for any number of pounds lost. It just shows the coach or whoever said this knew nothing about nutrition in high level athletes. But what is even more disgusting is that she was asked to send pics of herself in underwear?woah!

    1. I can’t remember if he’s religious and stupid or just stupid, but if it’s the former, maybe he thinks Covid is a gift from God sent to make D-D finally give up the throne.

      1. Why would anything written here need to be helpful? And to whom? 🙄

        (Also Jay Clark’s views are idiotic and should be mocked. They’re the kind of ludicrous that sets all of society back, whether you lean conservative or progressive.)

    2. Jay doesn’t want virtual meets because he wouldn’t be able to go to concessions and chow down 3 large nachos and a diet coke. Speaking of zaftig…

      1. Jay Clark is an idiot and some of his political views make him a bad person in my view, but hey if he wants to eat nachos and be round I support him in that. Nachos are delicious.

  5. I’ll be honest – I think LSU might be able to still a championship this year (if there is a season/postseason). With all the olympic deferrals at the other usual contenders, and Arenas/Dunne/Bryant – this will certainly be the strongest LSU team since the departure of Hambrick and Macadaeg (even when Priessman, Kelley, and Finnegan were seniors, the team struggled with consistency). I do hope there is a season.

  6. Interesting move from Byron Knox….returning to his Alma mater SCSU…I would’ve guessed SCSU would’ve been on the chopping block before Bridgeport…

    1. Anyone know what happened to Mary Beth Arnold (Fredricks) as head coach of SCSU? Couldn’t have been good since she didn’t last the full year and many SCSU gymnasts transferred.

      1. I have to think a university investigation took place in response to Melanie Coleman’s death…this could be an outgrowth of that.

  7. I wonder if the reason for the complaint not being upheld is insufficient receipts. But if Ellie submitted evidence of those emails to the enquiry, then that should be evidence enough surely?

  8. The problem is that coaches usually suggest dieting which is almost always something which leads to too few, and the wrong calories ingested. This needs to be left to a nutritionist, not a coach, especially idiots like MLT

    1. Yup – sadly some nutritionist (especially many used by NCAA schools) don’t seem to be geared toward gymnasts. They are typically the same ones who the Basketball and football people use. I know several NCAA gymnasts who struggled and life became worse with the advise of the school provided nutritionist. Mensus stopped even though weight actually increased. Took pressure from parents and a trip to an outside female FP with a sports fellowship to set things straight – and over a year year of mental anguish and feeling of low self worth (although that was part was coaches) and years of a bad relationship with body image.

  9. Coaches should talk about bodies in terms of stamina and strength. Gyms with high level athletes (and honestly, even lower-level ones), should also have relationships with REAL dieticians, preferably more than one to give their athletes options if they have personality/style differences. Most people have no idea how diet->>body->>energy really work.

    That’s it. Coaches coach the gymnastics, dieticians advise on diet.

    1. I gave advice on how a coach should approach weight with their gymnast above, but I think this advice is better. ^

      I do want to reiterate, for all the “goal-oriented” higher level coaches out there who seem to feel obligated to encourage their gymnasts to weigh a certain amount: there is literally no amount of success in gymnastics that is worth developing an eating disorder for. If your gymnast can’t perform to her peak without being thinner, but being thinner risks her mental health: prioritize her mental health.

      1. These NCAA coaches recruit the athletes in club with the bodies they detest and use the phrases “not safe to do gymnastics” as a code word for “I think you’re fat so lose weight until I’m happy even though you’ve been tumbling in club at this weight and haven’t been unsafe”….

        NCAA coaches are a nasty lot and yes, some athletes gain weight in college… but when you have the Vals and the Ball St beaut Saleem body shaming athletes they regularly have in their line ups ….and a la Ross, getting 9.975s and 10s …. they need to be eliminated because they shouldn’t be coaching anyone, ever.

      2. I find it interesting that safety is frequently brought up as a reason when gymnasts are supposedly “too heavy” and rarely when they are too weak from dieting to make whatever arbitrary weight their coach has set for them.

    2. boom. everyone needs to see this.

      after a while i feel like seeing someone for mental health (not even with body issues or depression) would help immensely. performance quality, mental blocks or even not being able to “get” a certain skill takes a large toll on your brain. at the level that elites/optionals are, in severe cases it would be detrimental to how they deal with other issues in their lives later. we saw how simone impoved in 2013!

  10. Anonymous @6:18…I totally agree…and these same coaches threaten scholarships on a daily basis, subject athletes to the DEX scan saying it’s a “screening method” and then use those results to body shame even further , post weights on the locker room wall such that athletes don’t even want to drink water during practice in case they’re called for a “random weight check” , get reports from the supposed nutritionists and counselors that are supposed to help these athletes and use their what they think to be private conversations against them … oh yeah, safety, my A**, sadism and torture is a better description…

    The fact that there aren’t more suicides among college gymnasts stuns me (happily so ) because the amount of mental abuse these athletes put up with over the course of their college careers is astounding…and it goes from programs near the top like UCLA to programs that don’t even make regionals, like Ball St and beyond. I get that they get a scholarship (not all) but being a student athlete shouldn’t give a coach license to mentally abuse them.

  11. If a gymnast wants to be fat and they get injured let them. If they don’t get injured then the weight doesn’t matter really. So either way you’re in the clear as a coach.

  12. Spencer, I know you’ve never been to a gynecologist or had a pap smear, but I assure you that “internal test” is TERRIBLE terminology and significantly more weighted and laughable than “verification,” and the US women definitely should NOT adopt it – especially with the history of Nassar’s abuse of athletes.

    There may be a better phrase to use than “verification,” but “internal test” ain’t it!

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