The legacy of Andreea Raducan — NCAA updates — Thoughts from Dana Duckworth

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, February 19, 2022

Happy Saturday! I hope everyone’s well rested, and if you’ve been following figure skating, I hope you’re doing all the self-care.

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Figure skating and gymnastics are often treated as cousins as far as Olympic sports go — both are known for combining athleticism with artistry, and for being dominated by teen athletes. Both have poor reputations when it comes to abusive coaching practices.

It was no surprise, then, that when 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance and her coach’s checkered history suddenly became a point of contention, comparisons were drawn between her situation and a similar one in gymnastics. 

I am, of course, talking about Andreea Raducan. In case you need a refresher, Raducan was the Romanian gymnast who won the all-around competition at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Then, she tested positive for Sudafed, a cold medicine that the team doctor had administered, and her gold medal was stripped. The drug was taken off the banned list the next year, and Raducan has been fighting to regain her gold medal ever since.

There are a couple notable differences between Raducan’s story and Valieva’s: Raducan tested positive at the Olympics, not before (Valieva tested positive in December). While her all-around medal was stripped, she was allowed to keep the team gold medal she had earned two days before, as well as the vault silver she earned afterwards. Valieva, meanwhile, will likely lose her team medal despite testing negative at the Olympics. Raducan didn’t have to compete in her sport’s premier event — the all-around — in the midst of a media shitstorm, as Valieva did.

Still, the themes that emerged after Valieva’s positive test became public were familiar, over 20 years following the Raducan scandal: How young is too young to compete? Are we putting too much pressure on young athletes? What consequences, if any, should they face for positive tests?

Like with Valieva (at least as far as I’ve seen…), American media was generally sympathetic with Raducan in the follow-up to the positive test. That’s a good thing. But Valieva’s case is also a good reminder of the issues that gymnastics is still grappling with. Like with figure skating, gymnastics has a very low age minimum, and the institutions that govern the sport aren’t doing enough to protect athletes from abuse, worldwide. This heartbreaking moment could easily have happened in Tokyo instead of Beijing.

If we’re lucky, those in charge of handling Valieva’s case will do something to help protect young figure skaters. Maybe then it could set a precedent for what needs to happen in gymnastics.

NCAA news

Our top four remains the same as we head into NCAA week seven: Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, and Utah. And it’s nearly time for NQS — for a good overview of what that means, head to The Balance Beam Situation.

Here are updates since last week:

  • On Saturday, Stanford bested UCLA, 196.9000 to 196.8500. Jordan Chiles got another 10, on bars:

… but sadly, this has not been the star-studded championship season UCLA was hoping for. Also on Saturday, Minnesota bested Ohio State with a 197.5750, and Cal upset Utah 197.5250-197.2750.

  • On Sunday, Oregon State beat Washington with a 197.2750. Jade Carey scored a perfect 10 on floor:

Also on Sunday, Michigan beat Penn State, but with a 197.600 — their lowest score of the season.

  • On Friday, Florida — scoring a 197.575 — beat Kentucky, where Trinity Thomas scored a 10 on floor:

Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State, Illinois, and Maryland met at Elevate the Stage Toledo, where Michigan took the win with a 197.950. At Auburn’s meet against Georgia, Sunisa Lee debuted a new vault, an Yurchenko half-on layout.

Utah bested Oregon State with a season-high 198.00, and Cristal Isa scored a 10 on beam. Alabama (197.600) faced LSU (198.050, a season high), where Kiya Johnson got another 10:

  • In injury news, UCLA sophomore Sara Ulias tore her ACL, and Utah junior Jillian Hoffman tore her Achilles.

Looking ahead to week seven, on Saturday, Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, and Rutgers meet at Elevate the Stage Toledo Session Two; and Oklahoma, Denver, Stanford, and Washington meet at Metroplex Challenge. On Sunday, Arkansas and LSU will face Missouri, and UCLA heads to Oregon State.

Check out scores at Road to Nationals, and an up-to-date schedule at College Gym News.

More gymnastics news

  • At long last, some elite news! The WOGA Classic happened (results thanks to The Gymternet). There, Konnor McClain won vault with a 14.100 and ​​Skye Blakely thrived on beam to win with a 14.250.
  • Simone Biles got engaged to boyfriend Jonathan Owens, a football player for the Houston Texans. Congrats, Simone!

  • Brazil’s WAG program is now home to the vault used at the Tokyo Olympics.
  • Jennifer Sey resigned from her position at Levi’s in light of her statements on COVID-related school closures.

Tweets of the week

Five at the IX: Dana Duckworth

Alabama head coach Dana Duckworth spoke to the press after her team’s victory over Georgia on Friday. Edited for clarity and length.

Coach, obviously that was a big night in a lot of ways, a lot going on. What did you take out of the night?
The unity of this team. What’s beautiful is when someone makes a mistake or someone has had an injury, the next person is ready to go. They step up, they step in, and they deliver, and they do it in such a beautiful manner, with confidence and grace.

The energy was electric tonight. The Power of Pink is powerful. I think back about 18 years ago when this was created by Sarah Patterson. I talked to her right before the meet and I said, would you ever have thought 18 years later we would be going this strong? I asked one of our alumni who’s a breast cancer survivor, and she said, Dana, if one person uses the mammogram fund at DCH; if one person has early detection and gets a mammogram; if one person tonight is inspired by what we did, then we got a win.

And I truly believe that this is a community sport. Alabama Gymnastics is bigger than just gymnastics and I just feel the unity that’s being created makes the team alive, and everyone wants to come watch. 

Breaking down the actual event, of course I’m going to look at what we did well and what we could do better, but I will tell you that on all four events, every lead off did their job. And the goal is to maintain that momentum and kind of get on the train and get rolling, but then when you have a dip, the next second’s more important, and we did that a lot tonight, and that will make us stronger. 

Do you have any update on Makarri Doggette’s injury?
What we do know is her Achilles is fine, thank god. We will assess what actually happened, and I will tell you, that first pass and her dance and the way the crowd was responding … probably the best floor routine she’s performed yet, so it was very unfortunate. At the same time, we will take good care of her, we will find out what’s going on, and I’m just grateful it’s not the Achilles. 

Tell us about Shallon Olsen.
I’m proud of Shallon. The experience she’s gained and the confidence she has, and the maturity I’ve seen over four years, if you know Shannon, you’ll understand what I mean when I talk about the maturity piece. She was so prepared for balance beam, and when I made that decision on bars, I walked over and I just said, trust yourself, trust your training. And she had this smirk on her face that was so confident, I’m like, this young lady is about to go dominate that routine. And then when she landed that beam dismount, that was huge. And then just the teammate she’s been. If I needed her to go on floor, she would have stepped in and do floor. So I really appreciate her attitude, her work ethic, and seeing that her hard work is being translated into her competition.

Who will replace Doggette in the lineups?
I haven’t thought that far in advance. I believe that we have some great depth on floor; we have several young women that can step in. It was a big step for Emily Gaskins to get out there, so she would be a great option. Mati Waligora was unavailable this week, so that’s another athlete that’s available. We have several that are still training and trying to break into the lineup, so I feel very fortunate that the depth is there, and hopefully Makarri will be back as soon as possible, but while she’s not, the girls will step in and they will do it for each other.

What kind of poise does that show as a freshman that Lilly Hudson was able to deliver that performance right after her teammate was injured? 
She’s a gamer. She is this way in practice; she’s very consistent. She doesn’t waste a lot of turns. She’s a well-trained technical athlete and her club coach did a phenomenal job in just the foundation, and so it’s beautiful to see her trust herself every time she goes out there. I still have some areas I feel like we can gain some tenths here and there, but she’s always open. She’s coachable and she’s resilient, and she is the kind of athlete, I joke, who wants the ball with one second left. She’s the type of woman that would want the ball and I appreciate that especially as a freshman.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parkerThe IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer