Today, I return to the land of the gymming…and almost wrote the year in the post title as 2015. So that’s where we are.
A. Gymnast AllianceNetherlands
The gymnast alliance is growing ever stronger, with the biggest news yesterday coming from the Dutch federation, which announced the surprisingly intense move of shutting down the women’s elite program while an investigation is launched.
So, what does this mean?
The elite gymnasts will still be able to train independently at their clubs, but national team activities—which means both camps and competitions—will be stopped indefinitely, and coaches Gerben Wiersma and Vincent Wevers are currently suspended from coaching as the federation investigates further action.
Newsflash: Copenhagen does not want your hideous mouth droplets infecting its city.
Citing monies as the primary reason, Denmark has withdrawn from hosting the 2021 World Championships, still scheduled for the fall of 2021—just a few months after the rescheduled Olympics.
At this point, the FIG still intends to keep on trucking with the event by finding a new host, and we can assume that a couple of the usual suspect cities would still be on that truck…your Bakus and your Dohas, the cities most familiar with throwing random money at hosting fan-free events. They’ve been preparing for this for years. I can’t imagine many other cities would be jumping at the chance of hosting a money pit that might not even happen, though.
But we can hope. I’m still excited by the prospect of a post-Olympic worlds where Teja Belak rolls up to become world champion on vault.
B. 30 for 30: Bela Sucks
The 30 for 30 podcast series about how much Bela sucks—or, I mean, the Karolyi system—is out now. It’s seven episodes, and I’m three episodes in so far. There’s some good stuff in here, especially at the beginning with Emilia Eberle and her teammates talking about being trained by Bela in Romania and calling him Dracula, and some juicy unpacking of all the lies Bela told about himself and his fake dockworker background.
You also…spend a lot of time in episode two hearing from Steve Nunno and Mary Lou and Mike Jacki that I didn’t want to spend, but overall I’m into it.
I tried to dredge up the screenshot of Dracula labeled “Karolyi” from the NBC documentary about Bela and Martha’s love story from 2016, but it was not my finest screenshot work. I wish that were stull available somewhere. We’ve come a long way since 2016 in terms of the content being produced about Bela.
The Olympic team final. Each nation puts up a series of gymnasts on each apparatus, and their combined scores determine which country is the best country of all the countries. The end.
But ’twas not always this way.
In the early years of Olympic gymnastics, the team competition did not feature individual athletes performing individual routines but rather a lengthy choreographed group presentation designed to showcase the particular physical education regime of each participating country.
Determining the rules and format to govern this group presentation, however, would become the Gutsu/Miller of its time. Two prevailing styles emerged: the German system, which included fixed apparatuses like high bar and parallel bars and rings with a more regimented style originating from a military background (so, not breaking any stereotypes here…), and the Swedish system, which favored a more calisthenic approach to physical fitness with an emphasis on stretching, flexibility, and balance.
The (now considered unofficial) 1906 Olympics in Athens and the 1908 Olympics in London hosted team competitions exclusively in the Swedish system—along with all-around competitions in the German system. In 1908’s Swedish team competition, each country was given a 30-minute performance window during which anywhere from 16 to 40 men could demonstrate “free exercises,” those with “hand apparatuses,” or any combination of the two. For the men, options for hand apparatuses included swinging clubs and wands. You know, because of the spells. Women did also perform their own Swedish gymnastics demonstrations in 1908, but only for exhibition purposes, not for medals.
British gymnasts—including Catherine Lyons and Lisa Mason in this report, and anonymous athletes in this report—are speaking out about specific abuses they experienced from their coaches and the culture of fear throughout British gymnastics.
Now…where have I heard that before? Oh right, it’s everywhere, all the time because the coaching culture in all of gymnastics, regardless of country, is rotten from the inside. Whenever we talk about abusive coaching there seems to be this need to clarify, “Now, of course, most coaches are wonderful and this doesn’t reflect blah blah blah blah,” but…clearly that’s not true. How many times do we have to hear these stories? Catherine’s horrific experience should be some shocking tale, but it’s not because it’s all part of a pattern.
Imagine how good Catherine Lyons could have been if she hadn’t been treated like garbage. I think about that eight times a week.
Meanwhile, in further gross news, Thierry Pellerin—Canadian pommel horse specialist who is a mainstay of the world cup circuit—has been arrested for sexual offenses against minors.
Not until Helsinki 1952 did the four women’s events we know today became codified as THE EVENTS in Olympic competition. Before that, it was basically a free-for-all, the apparatuses in Olympic competition varying wildly from quadrennium to quadrennium with formats and rules that could at best be described as ambiguous. And at worst as a lawless mayonnaise fire.
In 1928, the women’s gymnastics rules were simply, “each country is entirely free in its choice of exercises, apparatus, and jumps.” (Thank you?)
In 1932, the rules were simply…um nothing because women couldn’t compete in gymnastics in 1932. Great work again, Los Angeles.
At the London Olympics of 1948, the women’s gymnastics program changed drastically again and featured an apparatus that had not been used before and would never be used again: rings.
Eh, there’s not that much this week, but here goes…
Athlete A. Out Now
The Netflix documentary on That Guy, and USAG, and the IndyStar investigation, and Maggie, and Rachael, and Jamie is out now.
For those who have followed what’s been happening in detail over the last four years, there’s not going to be a lot of new information there for you, but the documentary does do an impressive job of synthesizing that information and establishing a clear and understandable timeline of events and culpability. That can be really difficult to do with all the moving parts and little wisps of information that have come out here and there—and will be particularly valuable for the general public watching it.
For some reason, USAG decided it needed to make a statement…about the film…today? It didn’t go over awesome. (Guys, you didn’t even have to say anything.)
OK. First of all, you’re not supposed to take this opportunity to pat yourself on the back for some great job you’ve done since they came forward, because…highly debatable and no you haven’t. I do think some things are improving and that the leadership staff is better, but it’s like you want a standing ovation for getting off the couch. Make it to the toilet and then we’ll talk.
Also they didn’t do it for you. USAG taking this documentary and focusing on what it has learned or improved because of Maggie still assumes that she exists to serve USAG or to make the organization better. “Debt of gratitude.” Like she gave you something. You took from her, so much. And now you need to give her something. Such as…everything she and the other survivors are asking for.