Believing Kara Eaker — Other gym news (plus NCAA schedule drops)

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Oct. 28, 2023

CW: Abuse, suicidal ideation

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Happy gymnastics Saturday! (This exclamation seems a bit misplaced this week, but it’s how I lead off every column here; feel free to dive into the archives if you like what you read.) 

Gymnastics fans were stunned this week when Kara Eaker — two-time world gold medalist with Team USA, Tokyo Olympic alternate, and two-time All-American on balance beam while competing for the University of Utah — announced her retirement from the sport this week, along with her withdrawal from Utah. Eaker cited alleged verbal and emotional abuse while at Utah (she does not name her abuser, though she does say the abuser was a male coach) in her post, and said she is suffering from “severe anxiety and depression, anxiety-induced insomnia, and…panic attacks, PTSD, and night terrors.” She also said that she sought mental health treatment for suicidal and self-harm ideation. 

The Utah program, and its head coach, Tom Farden, were already under a microscope after an independent investigation by Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell concluded that Farden’s behavior as a coach was questionable, but not in violation of SafeSport. The university itself had investigated the team and Farden previously. Eaker pulled no punches in her assessment of the Husch Blackwell investigation, calling it “incomplete,” “inaccurate,” and lacking in credibility. 

Former Utah gymnast Kim Tessen spoke out in support of Eaker. Beyond Tessen, it’s mostly been crickets from anyone associated with Utah or the gymnastics team, and you know what? That’s OK. They have a lot to process here, and it’s probably best if they do it off social media. 

Eaker’s father, Mark, commented on her post to say that he was sorry he did not know the extent of what Kara had been through. 

And that’s the thing. No one knows, except the person in it. Which is why it is critical to, as the book title said a few years back, start by believing. Believe women. Believe what they’re telling you, because if they are telling you, chances are you are only hearing the half (or less) of it. Mental illness is a snake. It chokes you off from lifelines, making you feel like you are better off alone. It makes you believe that you alone must suffer, that no one else will understand, that no one else wants to hear about it. Combined with an abuser telling you the same things, it’s a powerful punch. If you walk away from this essay having gained only one thing, let it be this knowledge. 

Eaker cracked the door. It’s up to us to make sure the light gets in. 

If you or someone you love has thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 

Other gym news

The U.S. women won the gold medal in the team competition at the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile. Brazil won silver and Canada, bronze. 

Kayla DiCello won the women’s all-around gold, with Brazil’s Flavia Saraiva in silver position and Jordan Chiles taking bronze. 

Two U.S. event specialists stood out in event finals, and the Brazilians dazzled here as well. Zoe Miller won gold on bars in the event final, followed by Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade and Saraiva in silver and bronze, respectively. And Kaliya Lincoln won floor gold, with DiCello and Saraiva tying for silver. Andrade won gold on vault, followed by Chiles with silver and Mexico’s Natalia Escalera with bronze. On beam, it was Andrade with gold, Saraiva with silver, and Canada’s Ava Stewart with bronze. 

And Luisa Blanco, a former U.S. elite and current senior at Alabama, qualified herself to the Olympics at the Pan Am Games with a bravura performance in the all-around. Blanco competes for Colombia as an elite, and earned a nominative spot in Santiago, meaning it cannot be given to another athlete. She still has to wait until next year for official confirmation, butt it’s all but certain we will see her in Paris. Very cool that we will have two top NCAA athletes competing internationally in Paris, with Blanco and Aleah Finnegan for the Philippines (Finnegan qualified at Worlds). 

Lauren Hopkins at The Gymternet took us through the Pan Am Games this week, liveblogging the women’s team final and subdivision one of the individual qualifications; the team final and subdivision two of individual qualifications; the team final and subdivision three of individual qualifications; the women’s all-around final; and day one and day two of event finals.  Hopkins also wrote up the U.S. women’s impressive sixth-straight team title as well as Kayla DiCello’s AA win and Luisa Blanco’s individual qualification to the Olympics

The Balance Beam Situation gave us liveblogs of the women’s team final and the women’s AA final.

Over at College Gym News, Sydney Seabrooks announced her commitment to the University of North Carolina in the culmination of her Recruiting Declassified series. The whole thing is worth a read, but it is a real treat to read about the decision-making process that went into her commitment. Jocelyn Sasson talks about her commitment to Florida, the 2024 class rankings are out, and they give us some potential MAC lineups.  

Kyle Shewfelt (aka the namesake of the Manamar, aka the Amanar but make it men’s) wrote a thread about Rebeca Andrade’s seemingly flawless Cheng at Pan Ams. 

Illinois State’s Julia Heiner received a special endowed scholarship for this year. 

LSU’s Brooke Simpson is stepping away from gymnastics to focus on her health. 

Schedule drops




Arizona State


Iowa State

Sacramento State

Illinois State




Five at The IX: Kara Eaker’s greatness

Leaving you here with Kara Eaker’s perfect 10 on beam at the Best of Utah meet on January 23. 

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Written by Lela Moore