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Aly Raisman shifts focus from 2020 Olympics to new role

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The people come forward to Aly Raisman almost daily now.

Random strangers. Men and women of various ages, races and backgrounds.

They see the six-time Olympic medal winning gymnast out in public and approach with a hug to give and a story to tell.

It was jarring at first, if Raisman is being honest.

When she pitched her autobiography “Fierce” to publishers last summer shortly after the 2016 Olympics, she intended to focus on her journey from tenacious prodigy to champion.

And while all of that is in there, the part of her experience that’s resonated the most since the book’s release earlier this month is the one she wasn’t sure she’d be able to share.

It’s Chapter 22, titled “The Survivors.”

In it, Raisman outlines how she was abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar, how he “groomed” her by presenting himself as a friendly ear and how she feels he was empowered to continue over the course of years by those in charge at USA Gymnastics.

Raisman spent weeks working on the section, revisiting it again and again, trying to get it just right. Or at least as close to right as she can get.

“I put in a ton of thought whether how I wanted to come forward about this,” Raisman said. “What I realized at the end of the day is that I want change and I want people to understand what exactly abuse is. It’s very complicated. It’s very confusing. I didn’t know that I was being abused because I was manipulated so horribly.”

In the process, Raisman discovered the abuse Nassar committed against other female athletes — including allegations from Olympic teammates McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas — is a very small part of a much larger problem that extends far beyond the actions of just one man.

It’s why she took those painful memories and put them on paper, to share with the world that, as she said over and over again, “It’s not OK. It’s never OK.”

The 23-year-old’s new calling makes thinking about a return to competition in time for the 2020 Olympics seem trivial.

“This is the focus,” Raisman said.

A focus that has turned her into an unexpected symbol of strength for others who share their experiences.

“Unfortunately sexual abuse is far too common,” Raisman said. “I’ve realized how many people are affected by it and it’s disgusting. That’s why I want change.”

Raisman has become an increasingly outspoken critic of USA Gymnastics, blaming the governing body for a lack of oversight on Nassar’s conduct.

The 54-year-old spent nearly 20 years as the team doctor for the U.S. women’s elite program, often working with athletes one-on-one.

Raisman declined to get into specifics about the abuse she was subjected to but her experience falls in line with what many other have claimed against Nassar: that he touched them inappropriately while describing it as proper treatment.

Nassar pleaded guilty to multiple charges of sexual assault in Michigan on Wednesday and will face at least 25 years in prison.

He still faces additional criminal charges and has been named in more than 125 civil lawsuits filed by former athletes.

Nassar’s downfall began following reporting by the Indianapolis Star in 2016 that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of USA Gymnastics’ more than 3,500 clubs across the country.

Raisman has not taken any legal action yet against Nassar, though she’s not ruling it out.

Her larger concern is educating young athletes and their parents on the warning signs while also loudly clamoring for change.

She has seen a familiar pattern repeat itself over the last 18 months: another gymnast comes out claiming abuse by Nassar, and USA Gymnastics follows with a press release attributed to no specific individual that praises them for their courage.

One of the most decorated Olympic athletes of her generation doesn’t just want words. She wants action.

USA Gymnastics has taken several steps in recent months.

President and CEO Steve Penny resigned under pressure in March and was replaced by Kerry Perry, who takes over on Dec. 1.

The organization hired Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport over the summer.

Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs and reporting.

The federation also adopted over 70 recommendations by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw an extensive independent review.

It’s not enough for Raisman.

She points out Penny wasn’t fired but instead forced out.

Though Nassar’s relationship with USA Gymnastics officially ended in 2015 after an athlete came forward about potential abuse, he was still allowed to continue working at Michigan State University while also volunteering at a USA Gymnastics-affiliated club.

“That is just unacceptable to me,” Raisman said. “(That gym) is a part of USA Gymnastics. USA Gymnastics is responsible for kids at that gym. Instead of doing their job, they let Larry keep working there.”

Raisman would like to see more extensive change in leadership at USA Gymnastics.

She never imagined being an agent for change as she dreamed of the Olympics while growing up in Needham, Mass., but she’s embracing the role as she comes to grips with her own victimhood.

Chapter 22 wasn’t the end, only the beginning.

“I’m still, as you see, processing it,” she said. “I’m still at a loss for words. I’m having so many people come up to me, telling me they had similar experience, that they filed a complaint and it was ignored. I will do everything I can to make sure those people are heard.”

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MORE: Gabby Douglas: ‘We were abused by Larry Nassar’

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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