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Five months to the day after taking the job with USA Gymnastics, 11 news organizations were invited to take part in a sit-down interview with Li Li Leung, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics. A 20-minute retrospection of her tenure with the organization revealed that USA Gymnastics has implemented 67% of the Daniels’ report, a far cry from the 80% claimed under her predecessors. And as her predecessors attempted to silence athletes from speaking up, she welcomes it.
Leung acknowledged that survivors and athletes should be able to say what they feel and that it’s an important aspect of the healing process. The room was solemn as aspects of bankruptcy, mediation, and current complaints were addressed, but solemnity is needed. In trying to strike a balance between truth and sympathizing with survivors—and moving the sport forward—Leung noted the need to acknowledge the past and pushing forward with a cultural shift.
Part of that cultural shift includes opening a position for Vice President of Athlete Health and Wellness. She is looking to help athletes succeed in life after gymnastics as well by equipping them with tools focused on safety, accountability, integrity, listening, respect and transparency. “These values will guide us in how we operate on a day to day basis,” Leung shared, and will be delivered in part through tailored programs to educate athletes, coaches, parents and club owners; that is, assuming there is still an organization.
The uncertainty concerning the survival of USA Gymnastics (USAG) is also painfully evident, but the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee has outlined four areas in which they need to see USAG succeed to retain their role as the NGB: Leadership stability, Financial stability, Athlete safety, and Rebuilding Trust in the community. This begs the question, how can trust in the community be built when there are pending allegations against current coaches on the floor? Regarding Anna Li and her mother Jiani Wu, she said:
“There are complaints against Anna and her mother. Those complaints are currently being investigated, they are currently under the [US] Center’s [SafeSport] jurisdiction. There has been no conclusion on the investigation… We need to wait for investigative process to be completed before action can be taken. If we believe there is imminent danger to any athlete, we will take an interim measure. In this case, it doesn’t appear there is imminent peril to any athlete. Every complaint that we get, we are 100 percent proactive on. I know sometimes it doesn’t appear that way. There has to be due diligence and due process in this investigative process. We can’t rush that because we have to get it right. I understand when you say optically it might not look great, but things are happening behind the scenes. They are happening and we need to let them happen.”
She also clarified that Scott Reid of the Orange County Register reported that there were complaints against Anna before she was appointed as an Athlete representative, which she vehemently denied. “Anna, she was voted in by current athletes in June. And then, in July is when the complaints were filed.”
Further questions were presented about the hiring of Edward Nyman. The position Nyman was hired for was scoped four months before Leung took the position at USAG and the hiring process was 80-90% finished before she arrived. She owned her mistake noting that she should have put the breaks on that hire. In doing better and in looking towards the future, Leung said no stone will be unturned for future hires, but some stones that still need to be uncovered belong to the past.
Robert Andrews, a psychologist who had previously worked with the men’s national team athletes revealed that scores were changed leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games, allowing for certain athletes to make the team. Leung has spoken with Robert and has helped to implement an independent observer position for future team selection processes to help regain trust in how teams are selected.
When challenged about how “independent” the observer would be considering the insular nature of the gymnastics community, Leung said, “This person will not come from the gymnastics community. That’s how we’re kind of keeping the walls up in a way in terms of keeping independence. I understand, you’re right, our community is very insular. One of the pieces around the selection procedures is that the independence part was really important to me and we did have discussions whether or not this independent observer should come from the community or not and in the end, we decided this person should not come from the community because there could always be that bias if they do come from the community.”
Even still, a cloud of distrust hangs in the air regardless of all these measures. There are still those too afraid to come forward among all disciplines. It was suggested that USAG hire an outside epidemiologist to perform quantitative and qualitative data analysis of past and current problems in the community. Leung was open to it.
The openness to change, the willingness to admit mistakes, and the vision and plan for the future left a lining of hope for those involved in the interview. Where that hope and where Leung’s direction will lead, we don’t know, but we do know the gymnastics community is watching.
The 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championship is going to open in the most thrilling way possible; it’s going to open with Sydney Barros on Floor. 2019 Jr. World Team Member has one of the most exciting floor routines of the century. Self-described as sassy fun, and inviting, Barros says that she looks at the crowd during the performance to invite them in. Choreographed by Dominik Zito and Kim Zmeskal, this routine represents Sydney. Kansas City spectators are in for a treat.
2019 Jr. World Vault Champion and three-time medalist at this years’ jr. world championships has set a goal of improving her routines from the GK Classic and making the national team this year. She’s adding in a double lay full-out on floor to aid her chances of retaining her current spot on the national team. After placing 4th in the AA at the Junior World Championships, she is one to challenge for the AA title here in Kansas City.
Coming off her GK Classic All-Around Championships win, Konner McClain isn’t looking to put pressure on herself, she just wants to stay calm. After some disappointment by just barely missing the World Championship team, she has worked on staying focused and calm throughout her competition performances. Though she was the traveling alternate, she did get to participate in the banquet at the World Championships and several members sent her a message congratulating her on her win. Other notable athletes like Morgan Hurd and Aly Raisman have used their spare time to nurture their hobbies like reading and fashion. They aren’t alone. McClain spoke openly about her love of make-up and said she may start a youtube channel.
While many of the junior women competing this weekend have multiple social media profiles with followers in the multi-thousands, the most anticipated junior gymnast in Kansas City has no social media. Asher Hong grew in popularity at the 2017 Winter Cup where he beat college students at the age of 13. Standing barely higher than the chalk bucket, his beautiful lines and clean gymnastics won over thousands of fans. Coming in as the reigning J.O. National Champion (15 year old division), he is expected to challenge for the 15-16 All-Around title.
His former teammate, current Oklahoma Sooner, and reigning J.O. National Champion (18 year old division), Laz Barnhill is also expected to challenge for the 17-18 title. Transitioning to the University of Oklahoma has brought a set of inspirations and challenges. He described the transition as going from the big fish in a big pond to a small fish in an even bigger pond. Even so, training in the bigger pond provides daily motivation as he trains under the same coach and in the same gym as Olympic and World medalists.
The future is bright with these athletes
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Days before the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics National Championships, Simone Biles celebrated her two-year anniversary with boyfriend and former National Team gymnast, Stacey Ervin. Though the most decorated American gymnast uses social media to share her triumphs and joys, her raw emotion was evident on the floor following podium training.
Through tears, she said of USA Gymnastics, ” We’ve done everything they asked us for, even when we didn’t want to. And they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job, and you couldn’t protect us.” She further expounded on the significance of USAG’s inaction saying, ” It’s hard to talk about. It’s really hard to talk about. I just feel like … I don’t mean to cry, but it’s just … it’s hard coming here for an organization and having had them fail us so many times.” And again, ” It’s not easy being out here, because I feel like every day is a reminder of what I went through, what I’ve been through, and what I’m going through and how I’ve come out of it.”
There was truly not a dry eye among those in the chalk covered circle surrounding Simone.
And yet, through all the pain and through each failure that the National Governing Body throws her way, she still thrives. Biles unveiled two new skills including a triple double on floor and a double double tuck off beam. If she successfully competes both skills at the World Championships in Stuttgart this fall, they would be named after her, totaling 4 skills named Biles in the Code of Points. She added that she only did one double double tuck onto competition mats before adding it into her routine.
Her future shines equally as bright with poise and humor as she joked that she still hates bars and reiterated that her trust is in her coach, Laurant. “Laurant makes the Impossible, possible,” said Simone. The impossible may, in fact, arrive next year when Simone could have a skill named after her on every event with Laurant’s ingenuity and her superiority. While the NGB that she competes under continues to struggle under the weight and failings of the past, the sky is the limit for Simone. Truly, no one has been more worthy of a sparkling GOAT on the back of their leotard like the one Simone wore during podium training.
— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) August 7, 2019
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