Gabby Douglas and Konnor McClain make big gymnastics decisions — Other gym news — Thoughts from Elizabeth Grimsley, College Gym News’ editor-in-chief
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, July 15, 2023
Two pieces of news dominated the gymternet this week.
One was Gabby Douglas’ comeback.
The other was Konnor McClain’s announcement that she was heading to LSU a year early and forgoing U.S. nationals (where she would have defended her 2022 title).
These stories may seem different. But Douglas and McClain have both had significant personal and professional hardships play out in the media over the last several years, and neither would have been faulted for simply bowing out of the game altogether. But both seem determined to stay in the sport, albeit in different ways.
We have seen and heard very little from Douglas since she went to her second Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and was targeted by the media for, essentially, appearing to have less fun than her teammates. Of course, given what we now know about what was going on behind the scenes at USA Gymnastics, none of those gymnasts were having fun. But the backlash — much of which, including criticism of her appearance and social media posts from a fellow gymnast alleging that Douglas had made the team illegitimately, had racist undertones — seemed to affect Douglas significantly. She made few public appearances following those Olympics and all but disappeared from social media, emerging briefly to acknowledge that she had survived Larry Nassar’s abuse but saying little beyond that.
When Douglas’ bio reappeared on the USA Gymnastics website last fall, rumors swirled about whether she would make an elite comeback. We saw a photo of her training at WOGA in Frisco, Texas, and heard occasional chatter from others who trained there and saw Douglas. But nothing was official until Douglas herself posted this week, confirming that she will indeed make a run for the Paris Olympics and giving us a hint of her famous bars.
McClain, in contrast, is a perennial presence on social media and has been since she was a young child. She often uses her platforms to express her feelings about her sport and her gyms, which subsequently sets the gymternet on fire with speculation about her intentions.
When the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021, McClain was suddenly age-eligible three years before anyone thought she would be, and her star beyond the gymternet began to rise. Her storyline was part of Golden: The Journey of USA’s Elite Gymnasts, a six-part documentary that aired in 2021. We saw her make the decision to switch gyms, from the one where she trained most of her career in West Virginia to WOGA in Plano, Texas, and her family’s allegations that she was treated poorly and experienced racism at the first gym. McClain did not attend Olympic Trials, but she did make the 2021 Worlds team. Her father and her grandmother died at the end of 2021, and McClain appeared to be struggling heavily with the changes in her family. Her career seemed to be on the upswing when she won 2022 nationals, but she then withdrew from contention for the 2022 Worlds team. She hanged gyms again, to Pacific Reign in Seattle, hinting on social media that WOGA had been stressful for her. And then, the announcement that she would forgo further elite competition this year and head to Baton Rouge.
Judging purely from what McClain has said on her social platforms, this feels like a good move. McClain’s enthusiasm for elite gymnastics has seemingly been on the wane for a couple of years, ever since the buildup to Tokyo when she was thrust into the spotlight as a contender ahead of schedule, and I hope very much that a turn in the NCAA will make her happier in the sport.
Douglas and McClain deserve every good thing that comes for them in the sport, whether that is in elite or in NCAA.
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Other gym news
There’s video from the national team camp! Peep Simone Biles’ new beam mount.
Lynnzee Brown will become an assistant coach at Penn State this season.
Jordan Chiles is a semifinalist for the AAU Sullivan Award. USA Gymnastics said in this IG post that she was nominated on the strength of her character and leadership skills. We love to see it.
And speaking of gymnasts who were nominated for the Sullivan Award… 2009 winner Shawn Johnson is pregnant with her third child, she announced in a YouTube video this week.
Then she attended the ESPYs with Nastia Liukin. (Photo credit: Frazer Harris/Getty Images)
Trinity Thomas also went to the ESPYs.
Leanne Wong gave an interview about her booming bow business, where she also hints strongly that she will compete at Florida this season while training for her run at the Olympics simultaneously.
Olivia Dunne started an NIL collective for LSU’s female athletes.
The French gymnastics federation continues to be terrible.
The Balance Beam Situation catches us up on how the U.S. gymnasts rank on each event going into the thick of the elite season.
Lauren also gives us the German champs results, along with an article on Elisabeth Seitz’s ninth (NINTH) German title, and the master list for the women’s teams at the European Youth Olympic Festival.
College Gym News has the winners and losers from transfer portal season.
Self-promotion corner: I wrote this article about Kentucky’s Arianna Patterson and her Gymnast Journals business for College Gym News.
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Five at The IX: Elizabeth Grimsley
Photo credit: Elizabeth Grimsley via Twitter
Elizabeth Grimsley, 30, is the editor-in-chief of College Gym News (which, yes, makes her one of my bosses, full disclosure!). Grimsley grew up in Atlanta and was a competitive gymnast through high school. She was already an gymternet journalist and entrepreneur by 2007, when she wrote a newsletter called All Flipped Out, which she wrote and designed in Word, printed out, and distributed to paid subscribers at her gym. Grimsley graduated from the University of Georgia, where she studied sports journalism, and founded College Gym News in 2015. She now lives in Dallas, where she works as a content marketing manager for an event registration and recreation management software company. In what little free time she has left, she reads (100+ books a year! This is why we’re friends, Elizabeth.), watches a lot of TV, and experiments in the kitchen. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What is your relationship to gymnastics, and how did you get into the sport, both as an athlete and a fan?
EG: I was a gymnast for over 10 years, “retiring” after my senior year in high school. I got up to level nine and competed at Eastern Nationals in my final season. I was always the one at my club that was obsessed with watching elite and college meets while most of my teammates couldn’t really care less.
Once I got to college, I immediately joined the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and was put on the gymnastics beat because I was the only one who knew anything about the sport. I stayed on that beat for four years, and had so many great experiences because of it, including covering a couple of national championships, interning at USA Gymnastics, and telling a lot of great stories.
Walk us through the process of creating College Gym News. How did you get started, and how’s it going?
EG: I was a recent college graduate, going through a down period while trying to land my first real job. I knew it was pretty unlikely that I’d be able to earn money covering gymnastics full-time, so I took matters into my own hands and started what is now known as College Gym News with the help of Emily Giambalvo, who now works at The Washington Post, but at the time was one of my good friends a few years behind me at UGA. We started out only covering the Big Four conferences, and not even every team in them—just the ones we deemed to be the most important at the time.
Over the next couple of seasons, Emily took a step back, I brought on a couple more folks to help, and we slowly expanded our coverage. Now we have over 30 people on “staff,” and cover every level of women’s collegiate gymnastics! It’s a little wild to me even now how much and how fast things have grown—we even have a partnership with NCAA.com! I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about what we built over the last 8 years.
You developed this system of recruit rankings that’s become a huge deal in college gymnastics. Tell us how you developed the system, and what it’s like to see it making such an impact on recruitment?
EG: I always had in the back of my mind to introduce recruit ratings to college gymnastics, but it was merely a dream. But then the pandemic happened, and we were itching for a big project to take on while things were pretty quiet in the gymnastics world.
We did a lot of research into how ratings work in other sports and the systems the various organizations use. In gymnastics, we have a bit of an advantage because there are scores that can be used to directly compare athletes, which isn’t really a thing in football or basketball. However, we didn’t want that to be the only method for evaluation, because as we know all too well, scores don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
With the help of Jenna King, Rebecca Scally, and a whole host of others, we came up with our first set of criteria and launched our first ratings in the fall of 2020. At first there was pushback—which we expected—because many fans (but certainly not all!) tend to shy away from anything having to do with “ball sports,” so this was a foreign concept to them. But one of our goals at CGN is to cover gymnastics like its mainstream counterparts because we feel like that is a great way to grow the sport and make it more popular among the masses.
You have very high standards for your writers and editors. What sets you apart from other gymnastics media, do you think?
EG: This goes back to my college days. My professors—shout out to Vicki Michaelis and Welch Suggs!—taught us from day one how important professionalism and strong ethics are as a journalist. We couldn’t wear logos on our clothing even to class, and we did many real-life assignments throughout our time in the Grady Sports Media program.
When I created College Gym News, I set out to create something that wasn’t just a blog written by someone in their mother’s basement—anyone can do that. I wanted to create a legitimate and professional sports media website for a a sport that I felt didn’t get enough love or attention. I wanted to earn the right to credentials—to nationals, big invitations, or top conference meets—that aren’t given out to just anyone.
When I bring folks onto the CGN team, they spend the entire summer not only learning the basics of feature writing and AP Style but all about what to do and what not to do when covering meets, the ethics of forming relationships with athletes, and how to conduct themselves during interviews. In gymnastics, there is a sense among fans that gymnasts are their friends. This has seeped into a lot of the coverage we see of the sport, too. Sure, sometimes that sort of relationship with an athlete can be fruitful in terms of producing engaging content, but it can also create an unhealthy environment where the blog or individual doesn’t feel comfortable reporting on negative things that may happen. With good journalism, there needs to be a balance of coverage. My hope is that we strike that balance at CGN.
What videos, articles, other content would you show someone to explain what you do and how exciting college gymnastics is?
EG: This is tough because we cover such a wide variety of topics. I love Emily Minehart’s feature about what goes into putting on an LSU home meet. Claire Billman also got the opportunity to go to the GK Elite headquarters with Heather Brink to see the process that goes into designing Nebraska leotards (most folks know we love leos at CGN!). I’d also share perhaps our postseason simulator, which is a fun, interactive data article that Jenna and Izzi Baskin created for folks to find out the probability of various teams and individuals to advance through and win the national title. Finally, we have some really phenomenal photographers on the team, so I’d simply share our Instagram account, which we use to showcase the great work they all do. Emily Howell-Forbes in particular is a star and shot one of my all-time favorite sequences at the Los Angeles regional this past season.
There are so many create pieces of content we’ve produced that I didn’t mention, but I think this is a good representation of what CGN is and what it hopes to be.
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