Livvy Dunne’s “fans” draw attention to security lapses in NCAA gym — Other gym news — Best routines this week
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Jan. 14, 2023
As promised, I want to talk all things NCAA gym, but first, I want to address something that happened at the Utah-LSU meet last Friday that should have teams and their staffs making a lot of changes this week.
A group of mostly teenage-ish, mostly male fans of LSU’s Olivia “Livvy” Dunne showed up at the Huntsman Arena in Salt Lake City to demand Dunne’s attention. If you aren’t already familiar with Dunne either through her beautiful gymnastics or her TikTok presence, you may remember her from that time The New York Times wrote that she was making NIL money off selling “sex.” (If you’re keeping track, this is now the third time Kurt Streeter’s work has appeared in a gymnastics column.) I wrote about that here in November.
Samantha Peszek, a 2008 Olympian, 2015 NCAA all-around champion and two-time NCAA beam champion for UCLA, and current ESPN commentator, posted a TikTok (which she also tweeted) of what she saw outside the arena, calling it “scary and disturbing and cringey.”
“We want Livvy!” the boys/men shouted in the video Peszek posted. “Give us Livvy!” They seem almost feral. They are not at all bothered by Peszek’s camera right up in their faces. Peszek’s no stranger to threatening behavior herself; she and her family received death threats during the Larry Nassar scandal. So I would say she knows what scary, disturbing and cringey is.
Jennifer Deeds Hoffman, the mother of Utah gymnast Jillian Hoffman, wrote on Facebook (as recounted by Outkick.com) that fans approached Jillian and a teammate, saying to them, “You’re not Livvy, but you’ll do” and requesting photos. “They were disrespectful in the things they were saying,” Jennifer Hoffman wrote.
The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed one young fan who said he had a “celebrity crush” on Dunne and was surprised by the response to Peszek’s video. But he also acknowledged that he could see how the crowd seemed “threatening.”
Dunne, who did not compete Friday, tweeted a response to her fans on Sunday. “Please be respectful … as we are just doing our job,” Dunne wrote, in part.
LSU’s head coach Jay Clark, however, responded to the video by shooting the messenger. In an interview with Louisiana Radio Network, Clark indirectly blamed Peszek for his having to hire security for his team. “And so, somebody puts it on the Internet and it goes viral, and so now all we’ve done is sort of encourage that kind of behavior everywhere we go,” Clark said in the interview.
Clark told The Advocate/Times-Picayune that LSU will hire a security guard to travel with the team for the rest of the season. He also acknowledged that this is not the first time the team has dealt with a security issue, saying that he has encountered fans “loitering” outside LSU’s training facility waiting for gymnasts to exit and that he has at least once considered calling police to deal with an overzealous fan.
Well. That changes everything. Turns out it isn’t the video of the behavior causing the problem, but the fans themselves. Who knew?
Clark is right to go to these lengths to protect his team. He should have done it sooner, not just when a video revealed a security gap. Suni Lee, the Olympic all-around gold medalist who competes for Auburn, has a personal security guard, and Auburn’s coach, Jeff Graba, acknowledged to ESPN that he had hired security for the team last year. “I don’t think anybody understood that you signed up to lose all your privacy,” Graba said, noting that the precautions were hard on his whole team as well as for Lee herself.
Teams who don’t have social media superstars or Olympians and world champions on their rosters may think they do not need this kind of security, but as NCAA gym grows more popular, it’s time for teams to stop publicizing on social media the hotels where their athletes stay (and in some cases, decorating hotel-room doors with their names). Most football and basketball fans are familiar with metal detectors and clear-bag policies at their venues; it’s time that gymnastics meets develop similar precautions. Don’t send gymnasts into the bleachers to meet with fans; allow them space to greet people in organized (and secure) autograph signings and the like. Keep buses at the exits of arenas and don’t make gymnasts march through parking lots to reach them. This is not the first time women have handled personally threatening situations with grace while the men in charge blame everyone but themselves, and it won’t be the last.
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Other gym news
So yeah, NCAA opening weekend happened. Let’s discuss! But first, here’s the schedule for this weekend, courtesy of Spencer at The Balance Beam Situation.
Road to Nationals has the team and event rankings for Week 1. Oklahoma, Florida and Cal hold the top three team spots.
Suni Lee leads the all-around standings, followed by Oklahoma’s Jordan Bowers and UCLA’s Jordan Chiles in a tie for second. Bowers is tops on vault and Lee is first on beam; Natalie Wojcik of Michigan holds the No. 1 spot on bars, while her teammate Sierra Brooks leads floor.
The Super 16 meet in Las Vegas gave us our first look at many big teams and top names, and we were not disappointed. Notable performances there included Cal, which won the third session to beat out three-quarters of the teams in the fourth session, and Stanford, which topped the second session and looks to be making a comeback after its progression was halted by COVID-19. Fisk made its team debut in the first session, which was awesome to see; Southern Utah won that session.
The aforementioned fourth session of the Super 16 looked and felt like nationals, both in terms of competition and performance and in terms of the overall mood in the arena and among the commentators (John Roethlisberger and Laurie Hernandez, doing the Lord’s work). Any of the four teams — Oklahoma, Michigan, Auburn and UCLA — could have won it, and each looked like it would at some point. Oklahoma pulled out the victory in the end with a 197.925. Michigan stuck bars to jump two spots and finish second, with Auburn in third, bolstered by Lee’s beam 10. A triumphant UCLA, back from a disappointing 2022, finished in fourth, but the difference in its work and mood with Janelle McDonald at the helm was clear. Beam made the difference here; UCLA was in second place before finishing on the beam, and it just couldn’t hold the stick. But it’s great to see this team smiling again.
You can see Super 16 results here.
Utah beat LSU by half a point in Salt Lake City, and Florida went 197.750 over West Virginia, Ball State and Lindenwood in Gainesville. Alabama bested Michigan State in Tuscaloosa, but host Nebraska fell to Arkansas. Missouri edged Illinois; LIU beat Yale; Denver topped Penn State and TWU; and Ohio State surprised Kentucky, Arizona and Greenville. You can see all the scores on Road to Nationals.
A happier story about Utah’s Jillian Hoffman than the one above.
Here’s an interview with Sophia Groth, whose Auburn debut last year probably got a little overshadowed by Lee’s.
I’m sure you’ve seen BYU’s Rebekah Ripley’s viral “Barbie Girl” floor routine, but here it is again. So fun.
Morgan Hurd’s college debut was … well, at least she has a great sense of humor about it. We love to see it.
Lee and Trinity Thomas scored the season’s first 10s, both on beam.
The Balance Beam Situation sums it all up in GIFs.
Kailin Chio will drop down from elite this season and compete level 10, citing a growth spurt and too many injuries.
Five at The IX: My favorite routines from the first week of NCAA
Here are five NCAA routines I loved this week — one from each event, plus a bonus vault.
Morgan Price’s vault for Fisk. What a debut:
And I loved Aleah Finnegan’s Omelianchik. Love that she’s now an all-arounder and keeps doing skills no one else is doing. (See also: It’s a Deltchev! On bars!)
Audrey Davis’ textbook bars for Oklahoma:
I love Amelie Morgan’s beam mount for Utah:
Jordan Chiles’ floor routine for UCLA. Any routine that features Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Push It” will get my full attention.
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