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U.S. gymnasts give emotional testimony about sexual abuse

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Retired star gymnasts testified before Congress on Tuesday that they were sexually abused by USA Gymnastics officials.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, and three-time national champion rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard recounted their experiences before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“USA Gymnastics failed its most basic responsibility to protect the athletes under its care,” Dantzscher said through tears.

Dominique Moceanu, a 1996 gold medalist, described a “culture of fear, intimidation and humiliation, established by Bela and Martha Karolyi,” the legendary coaches who are named in a civil lawsuit for physical abuse.

U.S. Olympic Committee official Rick Adams and Stafford County (Va.) Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen also testified. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman, criticized USA Gymnastics for declining to testify.

The hearing concerns a bill that could reshape sex-abuse reporting guidelines in Olympic sports. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is co-sponsoring a bill that calls on organizations overseeing Olympic sports to immediately report sex-abuse allegations to law enforcement or child-welfare authorities.

The bill and proposed changes to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act come in the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal that led to the resignation of USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny.

Dantzscher and Howard told the committee of their abuses by Dr. Larry Nassar, who is in prison in Michigan and faces charges in the state and federal systems.

“They failed to take action against coaches, trainers and other adults who abused children,” Dantzscher said. “And they allowed Dr. Nassar to abuse young women and girls for more than 20 years.”

Howard said, “It has become glaringly obvious that USA Gymnastics has not done nearly enough to protect athletes from any form of abuse.”

Moceanu, now an advocate, spoke about her emotional and verbal abuse during her time with USA Gymnastics. She said there is an “urgent need” to change the culture of the organization.

Feinstein, who has been critical of USA Gymnastics’ handling of the sex-abuse scandal, said she met two months ago with former gymnasts who were abused as teenagers and carried the trauma with them as adults. Dantzscher and Howard said they didn’t realize until last year that Nassar had abused them.

As part of the proposed legislation, governing bodies under the USOC umbrella would be required to report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement and train employees on how to handle situations. The statute of limitations for victims to sue their abusers would also be extended.

“Young athletes should not have to fear victimization from coaches doctors and other officials,” Feinstein said at a news conference after the hearing.

Retired gymnast Jeanette Antolin also said at the news conference she was sexually abused by her first coach and praised the proposed legislation, saying “for so long we felt like we had no voice.”

Mattie Larson, a 2010 World Championships team member, also attended the news conference but did not speak.

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MORE: John Orozco retires, reflects on gymnastics career

John Orozco reflects on gymnastics career, looks to new venture

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Olympian John Orozco is getting set to leave the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, moving on from a decorated gymnastics career.

He’ll soon settle in Southern California, seeking to become a screen actor.

The Bronx native said he had never been asked how he wanted to be remembered by gymnastics fans. He offered this:

“Someone who could inspire people to keep pushing through no matter what,” Orozco said by phone Tuesday. “If it’s going on in their personal life, through the struggles at the gym or any other aspect of your life.

“You have to enjoy the struggles at times, because you wouldn’t appreciate success as much [if not].”

Orozco’s gymnastics were full of both. He evolved into a world-class athlete from the unlikeliest of backgrounds, emerging from family financial troubles and an area rife with gang violence.

Orozco’s mother, Damaris, used to drive him daily from the Bronx to the hamlet Chappaqua for gymnastics practice, usually more than an hour away with traffic. Damaris, who suffered for years with health problems including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, died two years ago.

Orozco’s career included bronze medals at three world championships (2011-team, 2013-parallel bars, 2014-team). Plus, a U.S. all-around title in 2012, when he became the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s gymnast since twins Paul and Morgan Hamm in 2000.

His favorite moment in 16 years as a gymnast? Marching out on the Olympic floor for the first time for qualification in London.

“Being one of five people in the nation representing your country, and in front of millions of people, you get to do what you love,” Orozco said. “It’s one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world, I think. I just remember walking out, and I heard the crowd screaming. It was really a breathtaking moment.”

Orozco did not perform the way he wanted in London, struggling on pommel horse and vault in the team final. The U.S. placed fifth, a disappointment after earning medals at the previous two Olympics and previous two world championships.

Orozco also erred on pommel horse in the all-around final and finished eighth. If he repeated his pommel horse score from qualifying, he would have bagged the silver medal.

But Orozco will be remembered as perhaps the greatest fighter in U.S. gymnastics history, coming back three times from major injuries. He decided not to a fourth time.

Before the age of 24, Orozco suffered two torn right Achilles and two torn left ACLs, the most recent setback last July, three weeks after tearfully coming back to earn a spot on his second Olympic team. That knocked him out of the Rio Games, and many thought Orozco’s career was finished.

Orozco was quoted in the fall saying that he would decide on his future after getting back to 100 percent.

“I actually never really got to 100 percent during my rehab before I decided to make this decision,” he said Tuesday. “I felt like this time around it wasn’t really happening with my ACL. It’s hard to find the motivation, especially after the Olympics are over. … It just feels like I’m kind of out of time, you know?”

It has been at least two decades since a U.S. men’s gymnast of Orozco’s caliber retired so young.

Orozco’s older Olympic teammates Jonathan Horton (31 years old), Danell Leyva (25) and Sam Mikulak (24) have not announced retirements yet.

Together, that group (plus a few others) heralded an era for U.S. men’s gymnastics where the team entered the Olympics and world championships with the expectation of contending for a medal. Even challenging China and Japan.

While Orozco is done competing, he may still do gymnastics. To stay in shape. And, given where he’s moving, perhaps teaching CrossFitters.

“I’m very, very grateful for the career that I’ve had,” he said.

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VIDEO: Sam Mikulak suffers serious injury

Watch Simone Biles, Nancy Kerrigan cha-cha on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

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Simone Biles made a rare misstep, but her performance on “Dancing with the Stars” was still plenty strong enough to survive the first elimination Monday.

The four-time Olympic champion gymnast got a step ahead of partner Sasha Farber on their cha-cha on the season’s second episode, leading to a lower score this week (29 out of 40) than the first week (32 out of 40).

“What you did was nice, just not together,” judge Carrie Ann Inaba said.

“I don’t know if I necessarily felt it, but what I saw was beautiful,” added another judge, Julianne Hough.

Biles and Farber’s score tied for the fourth-highest of the 12 couples, after posting the highest score the previous Monday. Biles is trying to join Shawn Johnson and Laurie Hernandez as gymnasts to win the Mirrorball Trophy.

Meanwhile, two-time Olympic medalist figure skater Nancy Kerrigan scored 28 points with partner Artem Chigvintsev for a second straight week. They also advanced.

Judge Len Goodman said Kerrigan “lost a bit of control here and there.”

“I think the thing that got to you was your nerves,” Inaba said. “In your first half of your routine you were a little bit off your step. … As the dance progressed, I saw you find yourself.”

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