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She marked her hands and jumped up to grab the low bar. Andy changed positions and pulled out his phone to film. For a foreigner, this exchange could have been read like a routine, but for a gymnast, it was a notable expression of autonomy. (“I really follow her example,” Andy told me later.) She went for Hindorff, a movement that took less force. She turned once, crossed the bar a second time and released it, throwing her legs into a V-overlap. Reaching out in front of her, she patted the bar between her legs.

Andy was so surprised he dropped his phone. Chellsie, he later explained, had failed to hit the bar for a Hindorff in eight years. He had expected it would take months to relearn his position in the air. It seemed to take weeks.

Memmel’s success comes after years of being away from the gym, but even for young gymnasts, the hiatus caused by the coronavirus has sparked surprising reflections on the nature of athletic success. Few competitive gymnasts had taken such a long mid-season break before. 19-year-old Delaware gymnast and national team member Morgan Hurd, a Tokyo favorite, told me that before the shutdown, the longest time she could remember being away from home gymnastics was just a few days – four years earlier, when she had been there. at Myrtle Beach. During the shutdown, she brought a mat home from her gym and took it up the carpeted stairs to her bedroom, where she remained conditioned by searching for workouts on YouTube. On March 7, about a week before the shutdown, Hurd won the American Cup; no woman has won this competition in a year of games and has not qualified for the Olympics. But when we spoke a month after the lockdown, she said the free time didn’t hurt. “I feel like I have become physically stronger,” she said. Last July, 29-year-old British Olympian Becky Downie posted on Twitter: “Lockdown taught me that gymnasts can definitely be ‘out of season’ if you stay conditioned, your skills aren’t going anywhere. … now I look back and think of all the vacations I could have spent in 20 years. Where does this myth come from !!! ”

In June, Netflix released a documentary, “Athlete A,” about the victims of Larry Nassar. Its post sparked a new wave of allegations and thinking, albeit largely not about sexual abuse. Instead, athletes in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, Brazil and Belgium began posting on social media, using the hashtag #GymnastAlliance, on the type of routine physical, verbal and emotional abuse – such as body shame and forced training. about injuries – which have long been the norm in gymnastics. Several countries have started investigations into their national governing bodies and the Netherlands has even suspended their national women’s Olympic program; in the United States, the posts were a kind of second wave #MeToo in the gymnastics community, focused on workouts and their costs.

Many accusations of abusive training practices in gymnastics previously came from high performance athletes, a fact that at times helped perpetuate the misconception that abusive training only occurred at the highest levels of the sport. In the United States in particular, gymnasts sharing their stories on Twitter and Instagram were college or club gymnasts, not pros. Nassar survivor Rachael Denhollander tweeted, responding to a story former gymnast Cassidy Hyman posted about feeling pressured to compete in a Level 5 state championship with two stress fractures: “I can’t even express my anger about it. Permanent and preventable back injuries that occurred at the FIVE level. At level 5, gymnasts do not yet make release movements on the bars. They stand on the low bar and reach out to grab the high bar, like in a jungle gym. After training for up to 40 hours a week and two years of home schooling, Hyman finally left the sport at age 14 with mental blocks so severe that she was unable to back up on the beam, a skill she had practiced for years. .

It has been 26 years since the publication of Joan Ryan’s “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes,” a groundbreaking investigation into the damage caused by gymnastics. Many of the practices released by gymnasts last summer, especially the pressure to be thin, echoed those widely covered in the 1990s. But some of these athletes were making a newer point, namely that they had come to believe that the rigorous training they’d undergone and the strenuous levels of exercise didn’t even necessarily help them win. “I didn’t always need to do all those extra turns,” former athlete Ashton Kim said. including publication on Twitter claimed that her head coaches over-trained her and abused her emotionally and physically. “It was unproductive at one point.” In her post, which included a letter to her head coaches at Texas Dreams Gymnasium, Kim added, “You can’t deny that we’ve been overtrained to the point of exhausting us. (A representative for Texas Dreams declined to comment.)

Last year Maggie Haney, who coached 2016 gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez for 11 years at MG Elite, received an eight-year suspension, the harshest sentence for non-sexual abuse that USA Gymnastics ever uttered. After Haney’s appeal, the suspension was reduced to five years, but it was still the harshest non-sexual abuse sentence USA Gymnastics had ever handed down. This was especially noticeable because Haney’s behavior, which included pulling her hair and telling her gymnasts that she would kill herself if they stopped working with her, occupied a space that the U.S. gymnastics governing body had, so far, largely refused to qualify as abusive. . (“Although victims may share their own stories publicly, USA Gymnastics does not share information about reports or investigations,” USAG wrote in a statement to The Times. “Each case is unique and is handled by the Safe Department. Sport of USA Gymnastics as such. “Haney denied verbally, emotionally or physically abusing a gymnast:” It is amazing that a few girls, families and agents continue to use USAG / Safe Sport for personal and / or personal use. These organizations were set up to genuinely protect athletes from being abused, “she wrote in her own statement to The Times. She added that” the USAG used me personally as a scapegoat to hijack attention for his own colossal misdeeds. ”Haney is suing USAG for what she claims is an unfair hearing.)

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