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USA Gymnastics files for bankruptcy

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USA Gymnastics is turning to bankruptcy in an attempt to ensure its survival.

The embattled organization filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on Wednesday in an effort to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces and to avoid its potential demise at the hands of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

USA Gymnastics filed the petition in Indianapolis, where it is based. It faces 100 lawsuits representing over 350 athletes in various courts across the country who blame the group for failing to supervise Larry Nassar, a team doctor accused of molesting them. Nassar, 55, worked at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University for decades. He is serving effective life sentences for child porn possession and molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

Kathryn Carson, the recently elected chairwoman of USA Gymnastics’ board of directors, said the organization’s goal is to speed things up after mediation attempts failed to gain traction.

“Those discussions were not moving at any pace,” Carson said. “We as a board felt this was a critical imperative and decided to take this action.”

The filing does not affect the amount of money available to victims, which would come from previously purchased insurance coverage, she said. Carson said the insurance companies “are aware we’re taking this action and our expectation is they will come to the table and pay on our coverage.”

Carson added: “This is not a liquidation. This is a reorganization.”

John Manly, an attorney representing dozens of women who have pending lawsuits against USA Gymnastics, chastised the organization for continuing to “inflict unimaginable pain on survivors” and encouraged law enforcement officials to “redouble” their investigative efforts.

“Today’s bankruptcy filing by USA Gymnastics was the inevitable result of the inability of this organization to meet its core responsibility of protecting its athlete members from abuse,” Manly said in a statement. “The leadership of USA Gymnastics has proven itself to be both morally and financially bankrupt.”

USA Gymnastics insists that’s not the case, stressing that the filing is based on legal expediency, not fiscal distress.

While Carson acknowledged that sponsorship is down since the first women came forward against Nassar in the fall of 2016, she described the financial condition of USA Gymnastics as “stable.”

USA Gymnastics reported assets in a range of $50 million to $100 million and a similar range of liabilities, with 1,000 to 5,000 creditors. The organization said its largest unsecured creditor is former president and CEO Steve Penny, who is owed $339,999.96. USA Gymnastics is disputing Penny’s claim, though attorney Cathy Steege declined to get into the specific nature of the dispute.

Penny resigned under pressure from the USOC in March 2017. Two other presidents — Kerry Perry and former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono — have followed in what has become a revolving door amid the organization’s hierarchy.

It’s that chaos at the top that led the USOC to initiate the process of removing USA Gymnastics as the sport’s national governing body at the Olympic level — a step that’s taken only under the most extreme circumstances.

In an open letter to the gymnastics community in November, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said “you deserve better,” and that the challenges facing USA Gymnastics were more than it was capable of overcoming as currently constructed.

Carson said the legal maneuvering Wednesday delays the USOC’s efforts to strip its designation as a national governing body.

“We always have a dialogue going with them and intend to make it clear with them we have a lot to talk about and we want to keep that going,” she said.

USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the committee is reviewing the filing’s potential effect on decertification. “Financial stability and viability are essential for a national governing body to operate in the best interests of the athletes,” Sandusky said.

USA Gymnastics believes bankruptcy protects it from having opportunities or assets taken away by a debtor. Carson acknowledged that being a national governing body “is a big part of how we raise our revenue.”

Carson, who replaced Karen Golz as chairwoman last week, said she accepted the position because she believes in the direction of USA Gymnastics, which she said doesn’t need money but rather time.

“We think we’re changing the dynamic and we certainly believe that we will try to remain the NGB,” Carson said. “To be clear, it is our lawyers’ firm belief that the bankruptcy will automatically stay (decertification) … and we will work with the USOC to regain credibility.”

Nicholas Georgakopoulos, a bankruptcy expert and law professor at the Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus, said USA Gymnastics is “hoping for a miracle” with its legal maneuvering.

“The USOC says you violated this relationship, here are the consequences and USA Gymnastics is saying it filed for bankruptcy, there are no consequences,” Georgakopoulos said. “This is like a gambling addict who goes to the casino and gambles every day and one day the casino says you can’t come anymore, you’ve lost too much, and addict says, I filed for bankruptcy, you can’t stop me from coming to the casino.”

If the USOC wants to go forward with decertification, it must now go to court.

USA Gymnastics has no timetable on how long the bankruptcy process will take and did not offer a ballpark on how much it expects to pay in settlements. Its doors, however, remain open for business.

“We are continuing to pursue all aspects of our current operating model,” Carson said. “This affords us an opportunity to reorganize as well as resolve the claims with the survivors.”

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MORE: Olympic medalist no longer on USA Gymnastics suspended list

Pole vaulter, 84, sets her sights on more records

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler left Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor in Poland, where she’ll compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The petite, energetic woman from Shelburne, Vermont, said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was going to compete at the worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape,” she said last week, after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

But she literally won’t have any competition in the pole vault in the championships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as competing in that age group.

Meiler said she the events she likes the best are the hurdles and the pole vault – one of the more daring track and field events, in which competitors run while carrying a fiberglass or composite pole, brace it against the ground to launch themselves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feeding the cattle and raking hay. In school, she did well at basketball, took tap and ballroom dancing, and, living near Lake Champlain, she water skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements, and her husband, Eugene, who was a military pilot and then became a financial analyst, together competed in water skiing.

“Many times when I did water ski competition I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a relative newcomer to pole vaulting and track and field, overall. At age 60, she was competing in doubles tennis with her husband in a qualifying year at the Vermont Senior Games when a friend encouraged her to try the long jump because competitors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track career,” she said, standing in a room of her home, surrounded by hundreds of hanging medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Athletics has helped her though some hard times, she said. She and her husband adopted three children after losing two premature biological babies and a 3-year-old. Two years ago, their son died at age 51.

And she desperately misses her training partner, a woman who started having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. It’s tough to train alone, she said, and she hopes to find a new partner.

“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” said Meiler’s coach, Emmaline Berg. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”

And it has paid off, said Berg, an assistant track coach at Vermont.

Berg herself first started following Meiler 10 years ago while she was a student at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, watching her at the annual Dartmouth Relays.

“She was like a local celebrity,” she said.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York, while her husband watched, Meiler said, was one of her happiest days.

“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet (5.6 meters), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

Meiler’s athletic achievements are remarkable and something to be celebrated, said Dr. Michael LaMantia, director of the University of Vermont Center on Aging.

Pole vaulting clearly isn’t for everyone of her age, but in general, activity should be, LaMantia said.

“She can serve as a role model for other seniors,” he said.

Amateur boxing president steps aside during IOC inquiry

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Olympic boxing under investigation by the IOC, the president of the sport’s governing body said on Friday he was stepping aside to let an interim leader take charge.

Gafur Rakhimov sai d he was not resigning as AIBA president, however, and did not call for new elections.

Rakhimov’s status on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list as an alleged heroin trafficker is part of an inquiry by an International Olympic Committee-appointed panel.

The panel will update the IOC executive board next week in Lausanne, Switzerland. AIBA could be derecognized by IOC members in June.

The IOC halted planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic boxing tournaments and blocked AIBA officials from contacting organizers in Japan.

“The allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies,” Rakhimov said. “I trust that the truth will prevail. Nevertheless, I have always said that I would never put myself above boxing, and as president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to serve our sport and our athletes.”

Under AIBA statutes, an interim president is picked from among the five vice-presidents, who include several Rakhimov supporters. The executive committee is due to meet by telephone this weekend. The interim leader can serve only a maximum 365 days before fresh elections, however, meaning that arrangement can’t last through to the Tokyo Olympics.

When Rakhimov was elected last year, his supporters pushed for a plan to allow the president to step aside while still retaining key influence and being able to return at any time, but that was defeated.

It’s not clear if Rakhimov’s departure would be enough to calm the IOC, which has also criticized AIBA over how fights are judged, anti-doping measures, and its debts.

The IOC could try to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, and some national boxing officials have tried to form a group which could help the IOC stage the event.