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USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

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USA Gymnastics is overhauling its Safe Sport policy in hopes of providing better protection for athletes and clearer guidelines for coaches, parents, trainers and club owners on what constitutes abuse.

The organization released the new policy on Wednesday after consulting with a wide spectrum of people inside and outside the sport. The group included child welfare advocates and survivors of emotional and sexual abuse, including one athlete abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar.

USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung called the update the foundation of the embattled organization’s efforts to foster a safe and healthy environment for all stakeholders.

“From this point forward, we are pledging to become a community of education, prevention and care,” Leung said. “We need to and can do better for our athletes and our community as a whole.”

The update is designed to clear up what the organization described as “gray areas,” including what the boundaries are for one-to-one contact between a coach and/or a trainer and an athlete. The new policy states that all one-to-one interactions should be “observable and interruptible,” including massages, icing and taping, stretching and any other physical contact.

Other guidelines prohibit electronic and social media communication between a coach and an athlete without a second adult being included in the exchange and banning personal gifts and other “grooming” activities. Background checks for employees at member clubs will now fall in line with those required by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The new regulations cover male and female athletes across all USA Gymnastics disciplines and mark the latest in a series of moves by the organization to better police itself in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding Nassar. The longtime doctor at both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University is now serving an effective life prison for child porn possession and molesting young women — many of them female gymnasts — and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

The policy also provides explicit courses of action when it comes to reporting various types of abuse, including what behavior dictates mandatory reporting. It states that “any adult under the jurisdiction of USA Gymnastics who becomes aware of an incident of child abuse or sexual misconduct involving a minor must immediately report the incident to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.”

The U.S. Center for SafeSport will handle claims of child abuse, sexual misconduct and any criminal charges involving a minor. USA Gymnastics will handle nonsexual misconduct complaints and any violations of the preventative policies. Leung stressed that “every athlete will be believed” when coming forward, meaning the organization will take each complaint seriously.

“When we say every athlete is believed, we will take the report and investigate it to best of our abilities,” said Shelba Waldron, USA Gymnastics’ director of safe sport education and training. “That means talking to witnesses, talking to club owners. The person who has case (filed) on them is notified and do have opportunity to speak to that.”

USA Gymnastics has beefed up its Safe Sport center in an effort to deal with the volume of claims. The organization is looking for a vice president of Safe Sport to work with its five Safe Sport staff members and uses three outside independent investigators.

Leung said the update brings the organization further in line with the recommendations put forward by a former federal investigator in the summer of 2017. USA Gymnastics has now implemented 48 of the more than 70 recommendations made by Deborah Daniels.

The organization is putting an emphasis on education. It will hold seminars at both regional and national congresses that will detail the new guidelines. USA Gymnastics also plans to host webinars focused on what constitutes emotional abuse.

Waldron said the organization used “national standards” when it came to defining emotional misconduct, which it describes as “repeated and severe non-contact behavior that includes any act or conduct described as emotional abuse under federal or state law. There are three forms of emotional misconduct: verbal, physical, and acts that deny support.”

USA Gymnastics is fighting for its survival as it tries to escape the shadow the Nassar case has cast over a program considered the gold standard of the U.S. Olympic movement. It filed for bankruptcy last fall 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 USOC.

Leung, who took over in March, hopes the new policies will serve as an important step in rebuilding trust in the organization while helping fulfill her pledge to making USA Gymnastics more “athlete-centric.”

MORE: Nassar judge, Olympians back USOC oversight push in Congress

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Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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MORE: Olympic aerials champion retires to coach