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Gymnastics Is a Brutal Sport. Does It Have to Be?


She chalked up her arms and hopped up to seize the low bar. Andy shifted positions and took out his cellphone to movie. To an outsider, this change may need learn as routine, however for a gymnast it amounted to a notable expression of autonomy. (“I really am following her lead,” Andy advised me later.) She settled on the Hindorff, a transfer that took much less pressure. She swung as soon as round, cleared the bar a second time and launched it, flinging her legs up into a V straddle. Reaching out in entrance of her, she tapped the bar between her legs.

Andy was so shocked that he dropped his cellphone. Chellsie, he defined later, had not efficiently touched the bar for a Hindorff in eight years. He’d anticipated relearning its place within the air to take months. She appeared to be taking weeks.

Memmel’s success is coming after years away from the gymnasium, however even for youthful gymnasts, the break brought on by the coronavirus has occasioned shocking reflections in regards to the nature of athletic success. Few aggressive gymnasts had ever taken a midseason break this lengthy. The 19-year-old Delaware gymnast and nationwide workforce member Morgan Hurd, a favourite going into Tokyo, advised me that earlier than the shutdown, the longest time she may keep in mind being away from gymnastics was simply a number of days — 4 years earlier, when she went to Myrtle Beach. During the shutdown, she lugged a mat house from her gymnasium and wrestled it up the carpeted stairs to her bed room, the place she stayed conditioned by trying to find exercises on YouTube. On March 7, a week or so earlier than the shutdown, Hurd gained the American Cup; no lady has gained that competitors in a video games yr and never certified for the Olympics. But once we spoke a month into lockdown, she stated the time without work hadn’t damage. “I feel like I got physically stronger,” she stated. Last July, the 29-year-old British Olympian Becky Downie posted on Twitter: “Lockdown has taught me gymnasts can definitely have ‘off season’ if you stay conditioned, your skills go nowhere. … now I look back & think of all the holidays I could have had in 20 years. Where did this myth come from!!!”

In June, Netflix launched a documentary, “Athlete A,” on Larry Nassar’s victims. Its launch spurred a additional wave of allegations and reflections, though largely not about sexual abuse. Instead, athletes within the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Brazil and Belgium started posting on social media, utilizing the hashtag #GymnastAlliance, in regards to the type of routine bodily, verbal and emotional mistreatment — like physique shaming and compelled coaching on accidents — which have lengthy been the norm in gymnastics. Several nations started investigations into their nationwide governing our bodies, and the Netherlands even suspended its ladies’s nationwide Olympics program; within the United States, the posts fashioned a type of second-wave #MeToo within the gymnastics group, centered on coaching practices and their prices.

Many accusations of abusive coaching practices in gymnastics have beforehand come from high-profile athletes, a proven fact that generally helped perpetuate the misunderstanding that abusive coaching was occurring solely on the highest ranges of the game. In the United States particularly, the gymnasts sharing their tales on Twitter and Instagram have been faculty or membership gymnasts, not professionals. The Nassar survivor Rachael Denhollander tweeted, in reply to a story that one former gymnast, Cassidy Hyman, posted about feeling pressured to compete in a Level 5 state championship with two stress fractures: “I cannot even express my anger at this. Permanent, preventable back injuries incurred as a LEVEL FIVE.” At Level 5, gymnasts will not be but doing launch strikes on bars. They stand on the low bar and attain out to seize the excessive one, as if on a jungle gymnasium. After coaching for up to 40 hours a week and two years of home-schooling, Hyman lastly stop the game at 14 with psychological blocks so extreme she was unable to do a again walkover on the steadiness beam, a talent she had been doing for years.

It has been 26 years because the publication of Joan Ryan’s “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes,” a groundbreaking investigation of the hurt brought on by gymnastics. Many of the practices that gymnasts posted about final summer season, particularly the stress to be skinny, echoed these broadly coated within the Nineties. But a few of these athletes have been making a extra novel level, which was that that they had come to imagine that the cruel teaching they skilled, and the punishing ranges of train, weren’t essentially even serving to them win. “I didn’t always need to do all those extra turns,” stated one former athlete, Ashton Kim, whose post on Twitter claimed that her head coaches overtrained and emotionally and bodily mistreated her. “It was unproductive at a certain point.” In her put up, which included a letter to her head coaches on the gymnasium Texas Dreams, Kim added, “You can’t deny that we were overtrained to the point of exhaustion.” (A consultant from Texas Dreams declined to remark.)

Last yr, Maggie Haney, who coached the 2016 gold- and silver-​medalist Laurie Hernandez for 11 years at MG Elite, obtained an eight-year suspension, the harshest sentence for nonsexual abuse that U.S.A. Gymnastics had ever handed down. After Haney appealed, the suspension was lowered to 5 years, however it was nonetheless the harshest sentence for nonsexual abuse that U.S.A. Gymnastics had ever handed down. It was particularly outstanding as a result of Haney’s habits, which was stated to embody hair-pulling and telling her gymnasts that she would commit suicide in the event that they stopped working together with her, occupied a area that U.S. gymnastics governing our bodies had, till then, largely declined to name abusive. (“Although victims may share their own stories publicly, U.S.A. Gymnastics does not share information on reports or investigations,” U.S.A.G. wrote in a assertion to The Times. “Each case is unique and is treated by U.S.A. Gymnastics’ Safe Sport department as such.” Haney denied verbally, emotionally or bodily abusing any gymnast: “It is astonishing that a few girls, families and agents continue to use the U.S.A.G./Safe Sport for personal and/or financial gain. These organizations have been put into place to protect truly abused athletes,” she wrote in her personal assertion to The Times. She added that “U.S.A.G. has used me personally as a scapegoat to divert attention from their own colossal misdeeds.” Haney is suing U.S.A.G. for what she claims was an unfair listening to.)





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