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USA Gymnastics faces change, golden glow gone amid scandal

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — On the floor of the Honda Center, the P&G Gymnastics Championships are imbued with a sense of normalcy and routine. Of tumbling runs and coaching tweaks. Of blaring music and chalk dust. Of leaps and leotards. Of the search for who’s next.

There is no sign of an organization in crisis trying to finds its way following a stormy year that’s seen one of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee brands shaken from the head of its national office in Indianapolis down to the smallest of its 3,546 member clubs.

To find the fallout from allegations of sexual abuse against a longtime former national team doctor and a subsequent independent review that called for significant changes in the manner in which USA Gymnastics protects its athletes, you need to pull back.

While the women’s field went through final preparations Thursday for Friday night’s opening round of competition (TV schedule here), in a hotel conference room across the street 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and fellow retired gymnast Rachael Denhollander called for several members of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors to resign, insisting the organization needs to make a clean break from its past before it can begin moving forward.

“A complete change in USAG leadership is needed starting at the top,” said Dantzscher, part of a bronze-medal-winning team from Sydney.

In a convention center a few miles away, hundreds of gym operators and coaches tried to figure out how to best implement the guidelines outlined by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who made 70 recommendations in June — all immediately adopted — designed to provide athletes, their parents and coaches better safeguards and greater recourse against accused abusers.

In Michigan, Larry Nassar — who spent nearly 30 years working as an osteopath for USA Gymnastics’ elite athletes — sat in prison after pleading guilty to three child pornography charges. Nassar is still awaiting trial on nearly two dozen other charges while also facing more than 100 civil lawsuits claiming he abused female athletes during his tenure at both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. Many are in mediation and four cases in California are tied up in the courts.

The golden glow from the Final Five’s medal-hogging performance in Rio faded quickly. While Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez spent the last 12 months enjoying celebrity, USA Gymnastics played defense, figuring out where to go after being named as a co-defendant in civil cases filed against Nassar.

Longtime women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi — who along with husband Bela was named a co-defendant in some of the lawsuits — retired shortly after Rio. The organization recently pulled out of a deal to purchase the Karolyi Ranch, which has served as the de facto home of the women’s program for nearly two decades.

Steve Penny was forced out as president and chief executive officer in March for mishandling a number of abuse cases. A replacement for Penny will likely be named by September, while Valeri Liukin took over for Karolyi last fall, tasked with both continuing the women’s programs dominance while also creating a more transparent culture.

“It adds a lot of stress, but guess what, we have a lot of great people in the country, a lot of great people,” Liukin said. “Having one bad person doesn’t mean that it’s going to affect the program. We are more careful right now. We take steps to make prevent [abuse] from happening.”

Less than two months removed from Daniels’ report, there are signs of progress. National team members who fly into Houston for training camps must be escorted to the camp with at least two other people along for the ride to avoid any one-on-one interaction. Underage female gymnasts with male coaches who are picked to compete internationally must now travel with a credentialed female chaperone. One-on-one visits to cabins the athletes use during overnight stays by medical staff is now prohibited.

“They need to know that their safety is our utmost priority,” said Rhonda Faehn, the senior vice president of the women’s program. “We need to make sure that they know that and that they feel it.”

That’s at the national level. Policing at a local level is another matter entirely. Denhollander came forward as part of an investigation by The Indianapolis Star that discovered USA Gymnastics collected complaints of improper conduct by over 50 coaches between 1996 and 2006 and regularly declined to forward them on to the authorities unless expressly asked to do so.

The new guidelines require member gyms to go to authorities immediately. Daniels suggested USA Gymnastics consider withholding membership from clubs that decline to do so. The organization also named Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport. Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs, reporting and adjudication services.

Many member clubs have already adopted some of the recommended policies on their own.

Tony Retrosi, owner and coach at Atlantic Gymnastics Training Center in New Hampshire, has long prevented his staff members from having one-on-one electronic media exchanges with underage athletes. It falls in line with best practices put forward by USA Gymnastics in 2015.

There is much to be done. Dantzscher and Denhollander don’t believe real progress is possible until board chairman Paul Parilla, vice chairman Jay Binder and treasurer Bitsy Kelley are removed. All three signed a letter supporting Penny in March after the United States Olympic Committee called for his ouster.

“It is clear that the board intends to conduct business as usual,” Dantzscher said.

Parilla said in June he had no plans to step down, and late Thursday other members of the board of directors issued a statement saying they are “confident our Board officers will continue to lead us through the coming months.”

Yet for all its issues at the top, impact on the sport at the grassroots level has been minimal. USA Gymnastics membership rose by nearly 3 percent from Aug. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017, to a record high of 198,636, showing that among members belief in the organization’s purpose remains strong.

At some point the smoke will clear. At some point the attention will turn back to what’s happening on the competition floor. Dantzscher’s goal — beyond giving the board of directors a makeover — is her sport embracing the painful but necessary steps required to create true change from “mommy and me” intro classes to the Olympic stage.

Asked if she believes such a change is possible, Dantzscher paused before answering.

“I hope so.”

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Gus Kenworthy qualifies for Olympic ski slopestyle team

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Two nights after taking a massive slam in the halfpipe, Gus Kenworthy bounced back to earn a spot on his second U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

Kenworthy placed second at the final Olympic qualifier for freeski slopestyle, which was held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain. That result, combined with a victory at a selection event last weekend, qualified him for the Olympic team.

It wasn’t the smoothest week for Kenworthy, who had been trying to make the U.S. team in both halfpipe and slopestyle.

During Friday night’s final qualifier for the ski halfpipe team, Kenworthy struggled to land a run and then had a hard crash on his final attempt.

On Saturday, he placed 58th out of 63 skiers in the preliminary round of a slopestyle selection event.

It was a different story on Sunday though.

By making the slopestyle team, Kenworthy will have another shot at an Olympic medal. He won a silver medal at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, where slopestyle made its debut, and was part of a podium sweep alongside Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper.

Earlier in the day, Goepper became the first skier to make the men’s slopestyle Olympic team. Because of weather delays throughout the week, Mammoth ended up hosting a pair of Olympic qualifiers on Sunday.

Goepper and Kenworthy were the only skiers to earn automatic nominations onto the men’s slopestyle Olympic team during the qualifying period. Two more skiers can still be added to the team as discretionary selections.

McRae Williams, the 2017 X Games silver medalist, has a strong case for one of those two spots. He finished sixth and fifth at Sunday’s two slopestyle qualifiers.

The other spot on the team looks a little more uncertain. Among the riders likely in consideration is Alex Hall, who was fourth at the final qualifier and is the next ranked skier in terms of qualifying points. It’s also possible that reigning Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, who just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL, could be in the discussion.

While Kenworthy is now assured a spot on the slopestyle team, he’s likely on the outside looking in for halfpipe. The three automatic spots have already been allocated to David Wise, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace, and the discretionary spot appears likely to go to Aaron Blunck.

Discretionary picks for both slopestyle and halfpipe are expected to be announced in the next few days.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:

1. Gus Kenworthy, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
3. McRae Williams, 95
4. Alex Hall, 95
5. Quinn Wolferman, 79
6. Bobby Brown, 68
7. Noah Wallace, 60
8. Joss Christensen, 60

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.

Nick Goepper becomes first skier to qualify for U.S. Olympic men’s slopestyle team

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The U.S. men’s freeski slopestyle team has its first member for PyeongChang.

Nick Goepper qualified for his second Olympic team on Sunday as the U.S. selection events start to draw to a close.

Goepper, who grew up learning to ski in Indiana, was on the podium earlier this year at two of the first three selection events for the ski slopestyle team, which enabled him to meet objective criteria for Olympic qualifying. Though he finished just eighth in the first of two Olympic qualifiers being held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain, he was able to secure his spot on the team because no other Americans finished on the podium.

At the last Olympics, where slopestyle made its debut, Goepper won a bronze medal. He was part of a historic medal sweep and was joined on the podium by Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy.

Those two are still looking to qualify.

Christensen just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL. After not making the final at either slopestyle qualifier last week, he finished seventh at Mammoth and could be in contention for a discretionary spot.

As for Kenworthy, he took a hard slam in Friday night’s halfpipe final and then did not advance out of Saturday’s preliminary round for slopestyle. He is slated to compete in another slopestyle qualifier, which will be held later today. Kenworthy can still clinch his spot on the Olympic team with a top-three finish in that one.

Another contender for the team is McRae Williams, who was the top U.S. skier at Mammoth with a sixth-place finish. Williams won a silver medal at X Games last year.

While the bronze medal and the U.S. podium sweep put Goepper in the spotlight in Sochi, he is hungry for more.

“To be completely honest, I was a bit frustrated with my result at first,” Goepper told NBC Olympics last year. “I really wanted to win that day, and I went there with all the confidence in the world and the expectation to be on the top. I definitely feel like I’ve got some unfinished business at the Winter Olympics.”

Olympic qualifying for the ski slopestyle team concludes with a second contest later today.

Kenworthy is the only one who could officially secure a nomination in that event, but all other skiers will still be looking to earn discretionary spots on the team, which are expected to be allocated next week.

Up to four men and four women can ultimately be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

U.S. Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 4 of 5 Events:
1. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
2. Gus Kenworthy, 140*
3. McRae Williams, 90
4. Quinn Wolferman, 79
5. Alex Hall, 57
6. Bobby Brown, 56
7. Joss Christensen, 54
8. Willie Borm, 50

Women’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:
1. Maggie Voisin, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Caroline Claire, 92*
3. Devin Logan, 90
4. Darian Stevens, 85
5. Taylor Lundquist, 81
6. Julia Krass, 72

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.
*Has one top-three finish.