USAG announces new leaders of women’s program, and the gymternet and I have feelings — NCAA updates – Gymnasts mourn Uvalde school shooting
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, May 28, 2022
Happy Gymnastics Saturday.
There are two inevitabilities in journalism.
One is newsroom pizza on election nights. The other is that if there is big, sure-to-be-controversial news that needs announcing, it will come out on a Friday at 5 p.m. or just before a holiday weekend.
Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and lo, USA Gymnastics announced Thursday afternoon that it had named the three people who would effectively replace the women’s high-performance coordinator role traditionally held by a single person. Most recently, that person was Tom Forster, whose legacy shall forever be that he exploded this job into three parts and that the new job descriptions all included a requirement that the person who filled the role should be good at communication.
Valeri Liukin was reportedly at the top of the list to assume Forster’s old job until Scott Reid at the Orange County Register revealed in a March 3 article that Liukin had been under a SafeSport investigation since January and interviewed former gymnasts who trained under Liukin who accused him of abuse.
USAG announced three weeks later that they were looking for people to fill three “equitable” positions — developmental, technical and strategic leads — that would replace the high-performance director role going forward.
Dan Baker, currently the elite women’s developmental coordinator and the head coach at Stars Gymnastics Training Center in Houston, will become the developmental lead. He will oversee the TOPS, Hopes and junior developmental programs and scout new talent.
Legend Chellsie Memmel is the new technical lead. Memmel, who staged an epic comeback to elite gymnastics last summer at age 32 after having two kids and went on Simone Biles’ Gold Over America Tour after the Olympics ended (and, oh yeah, has also been working as a coach and brevet judge for years), will serve as the technical lead. She will direct training at National Team camps and travel to clubs to help gymnasts develop strong routines for domestic and international competitions. It was not lost on the gymternet that after Memmel was not allowed by Forster to advance to Olympic Trials last year, she then took his job.
And Alicia Sacramone Quinn, Memmel’s 2008 Olympic teammate, will assume the role of strategic lead. Sacramone Quinn works as an ESPN gymnastics analyst, a choreographer and a clinician and runs a business called Like a Champ, helping those in the gymnastics industry with their career paths. Her job will involve developing national team strategy and overseeing gymnasts’ physical and mental health.
CW: Violence, abuse, suicide. Skip ahead to the next subheading if you need to.
This has been a horrible week. Nineteen children and two teachers died in a Uvalde, Tex., elementary school at the hands of a gunman who strode past security into their classroom with an assault rifle. How we move forward will give us a good idea of how much our nation values its children and its future.
And how USAG proceeds from here will also give us an idea of how they value the children who compete for them.
The news about the lack of charges for the FBI agents who mishandled gymnasts’ allegations of abuse by Larry Nassar doesn’t give me much hope for people caring about kids.
Nor does the news from recent weeks of five NCAA athletes taking their own lives.* Nor do the reports of bullying coaches that have emerged over the last year from track, swimming, tennis and, again and again, gymnastics — including about Baker (see below), now in charge of developing young athletes into future NCAA stars and Olympians.
Sacramone Quinn and Memmel were those Olympians who rose up through the USAG ranks and are now tasked, along with Baker, with creating teams that both win medals and, ideally, stay healthy and happy doing it. Both Memmel and Sacramone Quinn are on the record with misgivings about the system they grew up in and the people they worked under. Can they make it better?
All three new hires will be under a relentless spotlight and microscope. We’re all watching. Throwing us this press release this weekend might have been USAG’s way of hoping it would get less traction, but given everything else that has happened to children and young adults in our country lately, it’s only making us look harder.
*If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, 24/7/365.
About those USAG jobs…
First, the bad news.
This 2009 story from the University of Oklahoma student newspaper that mentions then-OU gymnast Natasha Kelley’s experience with Dan Baker started circulating on gym Twitter immediately after the announcement.
Kelley won silver (alongside Memmel and Sacramone) for Team USA at the 2006 World Championships. She started at Oklahoma in 2008, took a redshirt year, competed for two seasons, and medically retired in 2012.
Notable quotation: “Natasha has little to say about the end of her elite career and her time at Stars in late 2007, other than Dan Baker ‘has a yelling problem’ and she ‘needed a change.'”
Dominique Moceanu tweeted that she had interviewed for, but did not get, the strategic lead job that eventually went to Sacramone Quinn. Moceanu has been an outspoken critic of USAG for years.
And now, the better news.
Andy Memmel was so excited for Chellsie that he gave us all a sneak preview of the good news a day before USAG announced it. #fetch indeed.
He also showed us how he celebrated. Never change, Andy, never change.
And, finally, the funny, because if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.
Other gym news
NCAA musical chairs continue
Ashley Priess-Johnston will return to Alabama, her alma mater, as head coach. She replaces Dana Duckworth, who stepped down last week.
Kristin White will take over as head coach at Utah State University, replacing Amy Smith, who will lead Clemson.
Smith, meanwhile, took six USU athletes with her to Clemson. Since Clemson won’t start competing until 2024, this seems pretty major.
Morgan Price, a five-star recruit who had signed an NLI with Arkansas, flipped her commitment to Fisk University, according to College Gym News. This is definitely a big deal.
Fisk’s head coach, Corrinne Tarver, announced this week that she had hired India Anderson as her recruiting coordinator. First coup? Looks that way.
Savannah Schoenherr of Florida tweeted about Uvalde.
So did Arkansas’ Abby Johnston, who attended Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which was the scene of a 2017 mass shooting. Johnston previously competed for Nebraska, where she gave an interview about her experience after the Parkland shooting.
Laurie Hernandez, too.
And Simone Biles posted a long Instagram story about Uvalde, including this link to the Texans’ statement. Biles’ fiance Jonathan Owen plays for the Texans.
Biles also weighed in on the lack of FBI accountability for the abuse she and so many others suffered.
Uncle Tim, gymnastics historian, uncovered the 22-year-old mystery behind the Sydney vault debacle for his excellent Gymnastics History website. He also talked about Sydney on GymCastic this week, along with other gymnastics mythbusters.
Five at The IX, gymnastics edition, will return next week.
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