Ep. 292 Recap: In this week’s episode – Winter Cup (it wasn’t horrifying and a pint-sized star was born!), NCAA gymnastics updates, developments in the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal and more.
Listen to the episode here.
Starting with good news for a change (that came out of very, very bad news): the Preventing Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act has been signed into law. (About time, it was in the works for years.) This law was initially proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) It includes authorization of SafeSport as an organization and clarifications around the requirements of mandatory reporter status. It essentially says that anyone working with children as part of a USA Gymnastics affiliate organization must immediately report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse. That’s immediately as in, right away and not in five weeks in case anyone needed any clarification.
Now, let’s get into the frustrating news:
USAG has told the Congressional panel that is investigating the sexual abuse fiasco that it didn’t enter into non-disclosure agreements with anyone aside from McKayla Maroney. However, attorney John Manly released a statement calling b.s. on USAG, alleging that he knows of several other NDAs between USA Gymnastics and his clients.
USAG is already in a deep enough hole that we’re all wondering if they’re really trying to lie about this, or if the organization’s leaders genuinely don’t know who agreed to what. Jessica says this wouldn’t be the first time that USAG has put out a false statement based on lies that were told by the limited number of people who actually had any information about agreements that were made in secret. Jessica says she has a hunch that people within the organization have been trying to tell the truth, but have been given incomplete information by leaders who chose to omit potentially damaging details. Jessica and Spencer agree that Kerry Perry should throw former USAG CEO Steve Penney under the bus and keep him there to avoid having her own reputation damaged by this since she’s in position to be a scapegoat.
Meanwhile, everyone at Michigan State seems to have caught a case of acute and sudden onset amnesia about why the university never did anything with information that had been coming in about Larry Nassar since 1997. Spencer sums up their tepid response to Congress as “the dog ate my homework.”
When this all started, Jessica mentioned that USA Swimming faced a similar situation regarding coaching misconduct and crimes, but essentially nothing happened. Jessica says the lack of accountability for USA Swimming initially made her think that nothing would come of the complaints against USA Gymnastics. However, a reporter with the Orange County Register recently pointed this out (…again) and found that over the course of 20 years at least 250 swimming coaches and officials had been arrested or disciplined for sexual abuse and misconduct involving minors. The report says there were a total of at least 590 alleged victims – some of whom were abused while they were attending PRESCHOOL swimming classes. The organization also paid a lobbying firm roughly $80,000 to rally against legislation in California that would have made it easier for sexual abuse survivors to sue their abusers and the organizations they worked for.
The Wall Street Journal published a report saying that top USA Gymnastics athletes have refused to participate in the USOC’s investigation because at this point it’s a cover your ass move that is neither objective nor independent. The law firm that is conducting the investigation has worked for USA Swimming … for more details on that, re-read the last section. If the USOC really wanted answers on this, Jessica says the organization could have launched this same investigation years ago when the complaints first surfaced, not after the fallout made world news. In lieu of participating in the USOC investigation, Aly Raisman wrote a letter saying she’d be happy to arrange a meeting between USOC CEO Scott Blackmun and the dozens of victims in Michigan who were assaulted AFTER he was informed of Nassar’s conduct.
Aly for president.
The USA sexual abuse story is NOT just about Larry Nassar. It’s about an institutional, systemic and moral failure in which everyone who should have been holding Nassar accountable enabled him while shutting victims down. Despite this, several coaches have participated in interviews for puff pieces about how their athletes were never molested – which shows just how tone deaf and out of touch they are (or are willing to be) in the name of marketing. If athletes never choose to come forward, there is no way to tell whether she or he was abused so … maybe let’s not run to the media saying that your gym is somehow better or safer than others? Ok, thanks.
Jessica says Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special where he mentions the need to accept imperfect allies after the end of apartheid in South Africa has some parallels to this situation. Jessica points out that the coaches who are saying their athletes were never abused are examples of the allies that need to be educated to make sure they can actually protect kids they coach, rather than assume that abuse isn’t happening because no one is telling them so.
The February camp at LSU
USA Gymnastics is stepping into the 21st Century and is planning to livestream the upcoming elite verification camp at LSU’s purple and gold gymnastics palace in Baton Rouge on Feb. 25. WE GET TO ACTUALLY SEE A VERIFICATION CAMP, FINALLY. But, does this mean anything when it comes to transparency at USAG?
Jessica says it’s “super meaningful” considering all of the paranoia about other countries seeing American athletes’ routines and upping their game just before major competitions. Jessica says we also need to make sure the gymternet understands that not everyone shows up to verification camp in top form (so withhold your judgment and enjoy the coverage.)
Spencer agrees this could be meaningful in terms of transparency, but it’ll be interesting to see what the environment is like given what we know about how things used to be.
Morgan Hurd and Maile O’Keefe have already been named to the American Cup roster and are not listed as participants in the upcoming camp. Also, Ragan Smith, Emma Malabuyo, Gabby Perea and Ashton Locklear are also not named as participants, which Spencer says could open up World Cup opportunities for other athletes.
Since Gymcastic basically serves as the sport’s oracle (aside from Kathy Johnson), it looks like several clubs have taken up Jessica and Spencer’s suggestion to send athletes to compete as individuals in the upcoming City of Jesolo Trophy competition since USA can’t have an official team with the national governing body being a toxic dumpster fire and all. Alyona Shchennikova, Oliva Dunne, Grace McCallum, Adeline Kenline, Tori Tatum, Ragan Smith, Emma Malabuyo, and Sydney Barros are all planning on heading to Italy for the competition.
Skinner considering a return for 2020?
MyKayla Skinner, a member of the 2014 world championship team who is now a sophomore at Utah, said in a media interview that she’s toying with the idea of returning to elite competition for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. From the sound of it, she’d likely train vault and floor and try snagging one of the individual spots that will be up for grabs.
Reminder: To get an individual nominative spot as an apparatus specialist, a gymnast must win the apparatus world cup series on that event – which she could easily do. Spencer says although the culture in USAG is changing, the organization is going to want to decide all six position on the Olympic team rather than allow anyone to secure a nominative spot as an individual. (Remember, there are four spots on the team and two individual spots.) Spencer predicts that USAG will go the all around world cup route for the two individual spots and then decide who the individual spots should be awarded to.
Utah head coach Megan Marsden, who tried making the 1984 Olympic team, missed some NCAA meets as she was trying to qualify for the Olympic team and gave the following quote:
“I always regretted missing those meets. If she does decide to do it, hopefully it won’t cost her college team anything. It’s two years away and she might be even more connected to being a Ute by then. All I can do is offer up some big picture stuff.”
To that, Jessica says: GIRL, BYE!
Jessica feels that Marsden is projecting her own feelings and experiences onto Skinner and what she could potentially do, which is inappropriate. Additionally, Jessica says now potential recruits will know that if they have any desire to return to elite competition after enrolling, Utah might not be the place to do it. (Hey there, Cal-Berkeley, UCLA, Florida, Georgia, Denver, and Oklahoma.)
Spencer says he understands where Coach Marsden is coming from in a pragmatic sense. Utah needs Skinner and if she were to defer a year, the team probably wouldn’t be as competitive. However, Spencer says Marsden’s statement would probably have been better left unsaid.
Elena Eremina update:
2017 world all around bronze medalist Elena Eremina has had back surgery and will be out for six months – meaning she’ll miss the European championships, which might as well be canceled now. If she’ll be back in August, that jeopardizes her shot at competing in the 2018 World Championship.
First of all – Oklahoma had three falls on beam last weekend and the world is officially ending. Jessica suspects the falls were linked to one of the many fracking-related earthquakes in Oklahoma. (Don’t worry, they’re still no.1 in the rankings.)
LSU had a two-meet weekend and scored 198+ in both competitions, climbing back into 2nd behind Oklahoma. UCLA drops to third, Utah is in fourth and Florida is still hanging out in fifth.
Maggie Nichols of Oklahoma still leads the all around, followed by MyKayla Skinner of Utah and Sarah Finnegan from LSU.
Alex McMurtry from Florida is leading on vault, Jessica’s new favorite Ivy Lu of Minnesota is now ranked no. 1 on bars, Maggie Nichols is now ranked first on beam, and Myia Hambrick got yet another 9.975 on floor and remains in first place on that event.
This season has seen plenty of lineups with fewer than six people but this weekend, the University of Arizona took it to the extreme with a whole TWO gymnasts on vault and three on floor. The backstory here is that four gymnasts were suspended for unspecified violations of team rules. On top of that, three other Arizona gymnasts were injured so … their final score was 145.375. Oregon State scored a 197.3 so … an easy win? Spencer says he watched this meet with his mouth wide open the entire time – like an ice dancer.
Jessica says she hopes the gymnasts did something fantastically epic and wild to put their team in the position it was in. She commends interim head coach, John Court, for explaining what happened during the broadcast and not shying away from it.
Although Oregon State had a great performance, Jessica and Spencer are concerned about the reemergence of the “medical tape bondage” leotards that we all loved so much from last season. The leotards are just not flattering on these athletes and Jessica wants an investigative report all about them. (commission, anyone?)
- Sydney Snead from Georgia got the first 10.0 in Stegeman Coliseum since 2010 for a great floor routine.
- Elizabeth Price also scored a perfect 10 on floor, surprising exactly no one.
- Ivy Lu of Minnesota also got a 10.0 on beam last week and Spencer says this should be a reminder to all NCAA coaches to find their Canadian diamonds in the rough. Jessica is fascinated by Lu’s ability to live in a super cold climate and do oversplits without shattering into a million pieces.
Crack or correct? Elizabeth Price stuck a yurchenko double full and got a 9.975. Skinner did the same thing at UCLA and got a 9.95. Jessica says the score for Skinner seems fair considering her form issues, but Price’s should’ve been a 10 – although there may have been a deduction for her slight leg separation.
Check out week 7 rankings here.
The FIG statement on worlds being held in Doha:
The FIG (the world governing body of gymnastics) essentially issued a non-statement in response to concerns about world championships being held in a country that enforces discriminatory laws against gay men and doesn’t recognize interracial adoptions. This could become problematic if certain athletes need to be hospitalized or if certain athletes, coaches and fans want to…exist?
In one line of the statement, officials say: “as a FIG member and by hosting the championships, the Qatar Gymnastics Federation adheres to the FIG Rules that does not allow any kind of discrimination or any violation of human rights as per Article 2.2 of the Statutes and Article 1. of the Code of Ethics.”
Farther down, though, the FIG contradicts itself by saying: “As long as the participants, coaches, officials and staff, irrespective of their race, sex, language or religion, respect the law of the host country and abide by the rules, there is no reason to fear imprisonment.”
Notice how this nifty little disclaimer doesn’t account for sexual orientation, or anything that may happen outside of the competition itself? Oh, and there’s no free press in Qatar?
Um…no thanks. See you all in Stuttgart, bye!
Winter Cup wasn’t an absolute mess for once and an ambulance didn’t need to be called to haul anyone away – hallelujah.
She says a key difference in this year’s competition is world team members didn’t automatically retain their national team spot (and funding) unless they medaled at 2017 worlds. So, everyone who wasn’t Yul Moldauer needed to bring their A game – or something close to it. Even Yul could only retain his spot if he made finals based on his finish on the three events that he competed on in preliminaries. Kenlsey says there was a higher level of accountability among the athletes, which cut the splatfest factor in this year’s meet. Eddie Penev and Donnell Whittenburg, who were both on the world championship team last year, are recovering from injuries/surgeries and were able to petition back onto the national team.
Kensley gave a shout out to Allan Bower, who was able to rank high enough to accumulate points in the convoluted men’s program point system on all six events. Bower is a senior at the University of Oklahoma and missed out on being selected for the 2017 world team despite placing second at nationals by one point to fellow Sooner, Moldauer. Now the two will compete together at the upcoming American Cup and all is right with the world.
Sam Mikulak won the competition easily despite falling on his tucked triple back dismount on rings in prelims and finals. Otherwise, his form and execution on the other five events was classic Mikulak (when he’s having a good day.)
Marvin Kimble went 12 for 12 at this competition and made sure that men’s program coordinator Brett McClure knew it after he dismounted high bar on day 2. This was one of Jessica’s favorite moments of the meet – which pales in comparison to another favorite Marvin moment from 2016.
Despite having a fall on pommel horse in the finals and not scoring very well in the points system, Alex Naddour was still added to the national team. This was a head scratcher for Jessica and Kensley.
ASHER. FREAKING. HONG.
Thirteen-year old Asher Hong who trains at Cypress in Texas won the junior division (and the crowd) with a 154.4 and was incredible at this competition. He’s so tiny that the chalk bowl is tall as his chest, and his bib number had to be fastened to his back sideways. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Other musings from the meet
Donathan Bailey’s hair should win an award of its own. His fro-hawk with blonde tips has reached new heights and Jessica wants to see him do a wide-arm handstand to see if it brushes the floor. Kensley says that he and Danusia Francis are kindred spirits.
Yin’s hair on the other hand? No. Just, no.
Also, FYI, proper gymnastics meet etiquette is to wait until the competition is over before standing up in front of people to have conversations or leave. You’ve been warned, and if Jessica catches you there will be hell to pay!
Kensley gives Sam and Adrian De Los Angeles the elegance award for execution and toe point. Jessica says Akash Modi’s full twisting double tuck off of PARALLEL BARS was one of her favorite skills of the meet.
Check out Kensley’s quick hits for a rundown of the best execution scores and hardest Ds from the competition.