As Title IX turns 41, nine notable US female Olympic athletes

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Call it a double. June 23 is Olympic Day and the 41st anniversary of the passage of Title IX. Here, to commemorate, are nine female Olympians who made an impact in their sport.

  • One of the greatest female athletes of all time, Jackie Joyner-Kersee left a lasting impression on the sport of track and field with her six Olympic medals in heptathlon and long jump. Between 1988 and 1996, Joyner-Kersee collected three golds, one silver, and two bronze medals at four straight Olympic Games. Her heptathlon score from the 1988 Seoul Games still stands as the women’s world record.
  • On the track, Florence Griffith Joyner’s speed won her five Olympic medals, but it was the sprinter’s style that captured the attention of the American public. Flo-Jo, who won three golds and two silvers at the 1984 and 1988 Games, still holds world records in the 100m and 200m.
  • In her fourth and final Olympic appearance at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, speed skater Bonnie Blair became the first American woman with five gold medals, capitalizing on the two-year gap between Olympics due to the change in the Winter Games cycle. Blair, who collected three Olympic titles in the 500m, is still the only American to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympic Winter Games.
  • The Williams sisters’ dominance in the sport of tennis is felt on every level of competition, including the Olympics, where they have had unmatched success. Venus and Serena have each won a singles title at the Games — Serena most recently in London — but they are unstoppable as a doubles team, going 15-0 at three Olympics on their way to three gold medals.
  • The U.S. has almost always been a basketball powerhouse at the Games, and Lisa Leslie was one of the sport’s stalwarts from 1996-2008, when the women’s team won four straight golds. She closed out her Olympic career with 488 points, the most of any American — male or female — at the Games.
  • Beach volleyball duo Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor pocketed three Olympic gold medals from 2004 to 2012. Their relentless pursuit of perfection led to a 21-0 record at the Games, with only one dropped set ever in Olympic competition.
  • The most decorated American gymnast of all time, Shannon Miller grabbed two silver and three bronze medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games, but it was her contributions to the team at the 1996 Atlanta Games that are most memorable. Her balance beam performance, for which she won an individual gold, also helped the U.S. win its first women’s individual all-around title at the Olympics.
  • Quite possibly the most well-known women’s soccer player ever, Mia Hamm (pictured above) was also one of the best. She scored 158 international goals over 275 games, which stood as an all-time record until Abby Wambach surpassed her last week. She made her final Olympic appearance at the 2004 Athens Games, where she won her second gold and third overall medal.
  • Defenseman Angela Ruggiero saw the women’s ice hockey tournament through its first four Olympics, winning a medal at each Games, including a gold in Nagano, where the event made its debut. Though she retired in 2011, she remains involved in the Games by serving as a member of the International Olympic Committee.

McKayla Maroney: I would have starved at Olympics without Larry Nassar

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McKayla Maroney said she thought she “would have starved at the Olympics” in 2012 if Larry Nassar didn’t bring her food.

“Your coaches are just always watching you and wanting to keep you skinny,” Maroney said in an interview with Savannah Guthrie that will air in full on an hourlong “Dateline” special Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. “There’s just other things about the culture that are also messed up that he used against us.”

Past U.S. national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi also gave interviews for the Dateline special “Silent No More.”

Maroney laughed when she said Nassar bought her a loaf of bread.

Her comments were shown on TODAY on Thursday, less than a day after her 2012 Olympic champion teammate Jordyn Wieber testified at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing to discuss the roles of national governing bodies — like USA Gymnastics — in protecting athletes following the Nassar case.

“We couldn’t smile or laugh in training,” Wieber said at the hearing. “We were even afraid to eat too much in front of our coaches, who were pressured to keep us thin.”

Maroney, Wieber and other U.S. national team gymnasts had personal coaches and convened multiple times per year at the Karolyi ranch in Texas for national team camps. Wieber’s personal coach, John Geddert, was the 2012 Olympic team coach.

Geddert was suspended by USA Gymnastics in January and is facing a criminal investigation after Nassar, who molested girls at Geddert’s gym in Michigan, was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison on Jan. 24. Geddert said he had “zero knowledge” of Nassar’s crimes.

“Our athletes, like McKayla, are the heart and soul of USA Gymnastics, and every effort has been made to support our athletes’ development and provide the opportunities for them to achieve their dreams.” USA Gymnastics said in a statement to NBC News.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Full transcript of McKayla Maroney’s first comments since Larry Nassar case

 

With USOC in turmoil, athletes testify about sex-abuse cases

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The question sex-abuse victim Craig Maurizi would like to ask U.S. Olympic leaders is simple and searing: “How can you sleep at night?”

Every bit as perplexing: How to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

The figure skater was one of four Olympic-sports athletes who testified to a Senate subcommittee Wednesday about abuse they suffered while training and competing under the purview of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the national sports organizations that controlled their Olympic dreams.

Their testimony provided yet another reminder of the way leaders at the USOC, US Figure Skating, USA Gymnastics and other federations failed to protect them over a span of decades.

At a USOC board meeting held later in the day, acting CEO Susanne Lyons outlined a six-part “Athlete Action Safety Plan” the federation is developing as a response to the abuse cases.

But the abuse victims, including Olympic gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher and speed skater Bridie Farrell, cast doubt on the USOC’s motivation to solve this problem.

Wieber, who won a gold medal in 2012, is among the roughly 200 athletes who have detailed abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar, who is in prison for molesting athletes on the U.S. gymnastics team and at Michigan State.

“After many people came forward and said Larry Nassar had abused them, I didn’t get a phone call from anyone at the USOC asking anything until after I gave a victim-impact statement,” Wieber said, recalling the emotional week in a Michigan courtroom that spotlighted the depth of the abuse scandal. “If you’re not currently a competing athlete, you’re not really relevant. They don’t really care anymore.”

The USOC is in search of a new CEO — someone to replace Scott Blackmun, who resigned with health problems in February.

When Blackmun resigned, the USOC announced a number of initiatives that mirrored the six-part plan Lyons described Wednesday.

It includes more funding for abuse victims and a review of the governance structure of the USOC and the 47 national governing bodies, whose sports make up the Olympics.

The USOC has also doubled its funding — to $3.1 million a year — for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened last year.

Two months ago, the center responded to Maurizi’s call about a four-decade-old abuse case that US Figure Skating swept under the rug when he first reported it 20 years ago.

“When I think back to my particular situation, there’s just no way that dozens, if not hundreds, of people around the ice rink didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Five-hour meetings in the office with a 15-year-old boy? That’s ridiculous. So, my question would be: How do you live with yourself? … How can you sleep at night?”

Leaders at the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State could be forced to answer those questions May 22, which is the date the Senate subcommittee has scheduled its next hearing on the sex-abuse cases.

It’s doubtful the USOC will have a new CEO by then, though it’s becoming clear it needs a well-articulated path forward through a devastating 12 months for Olympic athletes and the organizations that are supposed to protect them.

Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track and Field, said commercial partners are hesitant to strike deals under the current climate.

“It’s an indication to me that it’s impacting the commercial viability of the business, and it’s a reflection of the societal challenges we face,” he said.

He said he was not opposed to a rethinking of the relationship between the USOC and NGBs, which have long valued their independence as the training grounds for Olympic athletes. The USOC has often positioned itself as an umbrella organization — a mere bystander when it comes to day-to-day operation of the sports.

“It’s not always clear what role we should be playing,” said Lyons, who attended the hearings in Washington. “Sometimes, athletes fall between the cracks a bit when they have issues with NGBs.”

Farrell served up the only concrete proposal in the more than two hours of testimony to the Senate subcommittee.

She would like to see more athletes — closer to 50 percent — placed on NGB boards. She’d also like to see retired athletes given a chance to serve.

The USOC appears amenable to that suggestion; one of its reforms is to see that athletes have a louder voice in decisions that impact them.

When asked what she would say to the leaders, Farrell said she would make one simple request:

“Take our names out, take our pictures out, and put their kids’ names and pictures in there, and see if it makes a difference,” she said. “Let them know there are thousands of people looking at them, as they should be, for missing the opportunity.”

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MORE: McKayla Maroney speaks publicly for first time since Nassar case