Thoughts on the USAG settlement — McKayla emerges — Other gymnastics news

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, September 4, 2021

(Note: The IX will not publish Monday. We’ll be back to you on Tennis Tuesday!)

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The USA Gymnastics settlement

Happy weekend, everyone! First off, thank you so much to my dear Lela Moore for covering for me while I was out. You’re stuck with me for the foreseeable future, but you can follow Lela and all her incredible gymnastics writing on Twitter.

The biggest news to hit the gymternet since we last graced your inbox is that USA Gymnastics and the Survivors Committee agreed on a $425-million-dollar settlement. This settlement has been a long time coming, but nothing’s set in stone — for one thing, USAG still doesn’t have the dough to pay it, and is waiting on word from insurers. 

For another, it involves USAG making changes to how it runs in order to prevent abuse in the future, and regaining the gymnastics community’s trust. Surely the PR people over at USAG would like to present the settlement as a symbolic turning point, but a culture change doesn’t happen overnight, and we can’t let USAG think it’s washed its hands of the business. There are still calls for an independent investigation into how this all happened, and changes must be made to how the organization is run, something that Rachael Denhollander states was pivotal to the agreement. “This needs to end with real justice and real reform,” she tweeted in response to the news. 

Finally, the long-term impact of abuse on the women and girls affected cannot and should not be a footnote in this story. Money will help fund the mental health treatment that survivors need, but that doesn’t make this go away. Regardless of the settlement, there are still hundreds of people walking the streets every day who are deeply affected by the negligence of adults who were charged with protecting them. 

On a positive note, one of the most high-profile survivors took the spotlight this week to talk about her perseverance in the face of this struggle and others. McKayla Maroney talked to Elle in an exclusive, and it was a breath of fresh air. “For so long, I was surviving. Now I feel I’m actually living,” she says in the piece. Here, she talks through her many struggles, including abuse, her treatment after her nude photos were leaked, disordered eating, and her father’s death. This piece is well worth your time, despite the photos of her with still rings (WHY do women always have to pose with rings?).

Gymnastics news

  • The Koper World Challenge Cup — the first competition of the new quad — is happening, featuring some of the overachievers who just couldn’t take a break after the Olympics. Here is a preview via The Gymternet. Qualifications have concluded and finals start Saturday.
  • Simone Biles was in the news this week, as she announced that she’s selling NFTs, something I thoroughly do not understand. She also talked a bit about the twisties in a video with her mom, and said she’s unsure whether she will return to competition (ESPN). 
  • The Swiss national coaching staff resigned after an investigation found that athletes had experienced emotional abuse (Reuters).
  • Martina Dominici of Argentina has been suspended for pretty much the whole quad for doping. In other outings, Alice Kinsella sadly tore ligaments in her ankle and won’t be at worlds.
  • Simpson College is adding men’s and women’s gymnastics for 2022.
  • Here’s a thread of all the amazing things Morgan Hurd could do before her elbow exploded.
  • Viktoria Komova got engaged.
  • Simone gave Sunisa Lee’s dad an electric wheelchair.
  • Jade Carey threw the first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks game, and it was one of the better gymnast pitches: 

Tweet of the week

Simone is sick of your shit

Five at the IX: Stephanie Ventura

This week, I decided to interview my friend and fellow gymnerd Stephanie Ventura, because why the hell not? Stephanie is an overall amazing person and shared some of her insight into the competition that first got her excited about the sport.

Where were you when you first discovered the Magnificent 7?

I was home in Hudson, MA, and just about to turn six. I couldn’t stay up late to watch in prime time (not much different from life at 31), so my parents recorded every meet on their own dedicated VHS tapes. Well, OK. There may have been an episode of Wishbone on one of the tapes that skipped over Jaycie and Kerri’s bar routines, but everything else was dedicated specifically to the Mag 7.

I watched compulsories, the team final, and the all-around final in my living room almost every day after. Of course, the team final was my main focus. I would put it on, move the coffee table out of the way and do their routines with them.

Are there any parts of the team competition that you feel differently about now that you’re older?

Pretty much every interaction any coach had with any gymnast. 

My mum went to high school with Steve Nunno and she always spoke highly of him. But people change as they grow up, especially when fame, money and power are on the line. Now that we know what former athletes of Nunno, Mary Lee Tracy and of course, the Karolyis, had to say about their experiences, it really casts a shadow over the bright Atlanta lights.

But, it doesn’t ruin it for me. I won’t let their behavior steal my joy anymore. Now, I have even more respect for the women who survived those coaches, that culture. And I’m proud, in a weird way, that women like Dominique Dawes (one of my favorites on the team) are using their experience to share with the world. Dawes, along with survivors of former Dr. Nassar and other gymnastics advocates are helping us identify warning signs, advocate for young athletes and ask whether the cost of gold is worth it.

What moment stands out to you the most from that competition?

This is tough. Between Milo’s floor, Bela screaming “Ahh-eeeeee!” after Dominique Moceanu’s beam dismount, Kerri’s famous vault and Mo Huilan simply existing, there’s so much to choose from. Oh, I can’t forget about Lilia’s toe point either.

Shannon’s beam is up there. NBC’s fluff piece certainly helped make it more dramatic, but Shannon was so incredible on beam. When I was little, I decided beam was my favorite event because Shannon was so good at it.

When I think about it now, though, I can’t get the American women’s faces after Kerri’s vault out of my head. They didn’t really get to celebrate when Kerri’s score (“A 9.712, she has done it!”) went up. They were scared for her, confused. No one knew what was going on. Moceanu was still in shock from her two falls and looked so anxious, as if she was dreading the inevitable punishment from Martha and Bela. I remember Shannon asking Moceanu, “Is she OK?” It wasn’t the moment of triumph you’d imagine, like the Fierce Five had in London. They got their celebration, but the fear and confusion were overwhelming at first.

Did you have any Mag 7 paraphernalia? 

I have the ‘authorized story’ of the Mag 7 and my dad saved just about every newspaper clipping he found. Kerri Strugg’s face is somewhere in a box in my mum’s attic, tears streaming down her face and a hint of incredulous pride in her eyes, captured in black and white forever. 

Do you think the competition would have gone differently had it been held in another country?

I think the Russian women may not have felt so defeated on floor. With all the cheers and the whistling, it was next to impossible to hear their music. Had the crowd been more American-neutral, they may have felt more focused and confident.

If the gymnastics was the same, I think there’d be a chance for Russia to come out on top. I was too young to know the ins and outs of biased judging back then, but there’s always a chance the former Soviets could have taken the gold with a bit of favoritism. A small chance.

I don’t think Romania would’ve scored higher than third. A bit depleted with injuries and the loss of Ana Maria Bican, they weren’t quite as crisp as Russia or the US. 

Is there a gymnast from this competition that you think doesn’t get the attention she deserves?

Bi Wenjing of China. Just had such lovely qualities on beam and bars. And some pretty impressive skills on floor, too! I loved the back hip circle on beam and her unusual dismount (font handspring to front full).

On the U.S. side, I always thought Amanda Borden deserved a little more love. She set the tone on beam in the team final and did her job on floor (not to mention compulsories). On another team, she would’ve been a star. I always admired the authority of her beamwork in such a pressure cooker of a situation. Plus, she had fun 90s hair.

Honorable mention to Elvire Teza of France!

Any idea as to why coaches were so theatrical back then, or why the cameras loved them so much?

We were living in the era of “little girls dancing for gold.” In other words, little helpless girls who know nothing and have no agency. The coaches made them champions. That was the narrative, at least.

If you wanted to make it, you only had a handful of gyms to consider. Bela “made” Nadia, then Mary Lou. Soon, every young gymnast in America knew that he was their best chance. Of course, when more girls come to your gym, you’re likely to find more talented people and the cycle of champions continues.

We see this a little bit today, too. How many gymnasts have moved across the country to train at WOGA or more recently, the Biles’ family gym, WCC?

As for the cameras … well, we saw a lot more of Nunno and Bela than we did Mary Lee Tracy and Martha Karolyi. We barely knew that Martha was given the head coach position at the Games. John Tesh told us that Bela thought he would get that role, but when they gave it to Martha, “he said it was a slap in the face.”

It was the 90s. It was America. Men ran the world and that’s the narrative popular networks wanted to push. They certainly delivered.

What’s a move from this gymnastics era that you’d like to see make a comeback?

Shushanovas on floor, baby!! And the Mo on bars.

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: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam,

Fridays: Hockey

By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster

Saturdays: Gymnastics

By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer