Simone Biles on USA Gymnastics: ‘You didn’t protect us’

1 Comment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The mix of rage, disappointment and grief are still there. Just under the surface.

And while Simone Biles tries to stay focused on the healing process more than 18 months after the Olympic gymnastics champion revealed she was among the hundreds of athletes abused by disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar, there are times when the massive systemic breakdown that allowed Nassar’s behavior to run unchecked for years becomes too much.

“It hits you like a train wreck,” Biles said Wednesday as she prepared for the U.S. Championships.

One that leaves the greatest gymnast of her generation and the face of the U.S. Olympic movement ahead of the 2020 Games in a difficult spot.

She still loves competing, pushing herself and the boundaries of her sport in the process.

And yet the 22-year-old still finds herself working under the banner of USA Gymnastics and by extension the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Both organizations were called out by Congress along with the FBI last week in a scathing report that detailed a series of catastrophic missteps that allowed Nassar — a longtime trainer with USA Gymnastics as well as Michigan State University — to continue to abuse patients even after athletes started questioning his methods in the summer of 2015.

While Nassar is now behind bars for the rest of his life and USA Gymnastics has undergone a massive overhaul in leadership since the 2016 Olympics as it fights to retain its status as the sport’s national governing body, the scars remain fresh for Biles, though she knows that doesn’t make her different from the other women who were abused by Nassar under the guise of treatment.

“I don’t mean to cry,” the typically poised Biles said through tears two days before attempting to win her sixth national title. “But it’s hard coming here for an organization having had them failed us so many times. And we had one goal and we’ve done everything that they’ve asked us for, even when we didn’t want to and they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job and you didn’t protect us.”

Biles is in therapy to help deal with the emotional fallout, well aware that progress will be slow and that a full recovery might not be possible.

“Everyone’s healing process is different and I think that’s the hardest part,” she said. “Because I feel like maybe I should be healed or this or that. But I feel like it will be an open wound for a really long time and it might not ever get closed or healed.”

So Biles is doing what she can, trying to find a balance between her pursuit to become the first woman in more than 50 years to repeat as Olympic champion while using her status as the face of her sport to effect change.

“When we tweet, it obviously goes a long way,” she said. “We’re blessed to be given a platform so that people will hear and listen. But you know, it’s not easy coming back to the sport. Coming back to the organization that has failed you. But you know, at this point, I just try to think, ‘I’m here as a professional athlete with my club team and stuff like that.’ Because it’s not easy being out here. I feel every day is a reminder of what I went through and what I’ve been through and what I’m going through and how I’ve come out of it.”

The process in some ways is getting easier. There were days early in her return to training in the fall and winter of 2017 and early 2018 when she would quit in the middle of practice and walk out of the gym without a word to coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi as to why.

Those days are gone. Biles says therapy has helped her rediscover her joy for the sport she is redefining at every meet.

Still, the effects of her experience with Nassar, combined with the inability of USA Gymnastics, the USOPC and the FBI to act decisively when athletes alerted them about his conduct, linger. She can feel it when she is introduced to a new staff member at USA Gymnastics and sense it in her reluctance to meet with trainers after practice.

“How can we trust them?” Biles said. “They bring in new people all the time and I automatically put my foot up because the people that I had known for years had failed us.”

Asked if she’s optimistic that USA Gymnastics — which is on its fourth president and CEO since March 2017 and filed for bankruptcy last fall in an effort to halt the decertification process — can find a way forward, Biles shrugged.

Yes, the organization has taken several steps in addressing what it acknowledges was a toxic culture that played a role in Nassar hiding in plain sight, including updating its Safe Sport policy to provide better protection for athletes and clearer guidelines for coaches, parents, trainers and club owners on what constitutes abuse.

Yet Biles is wary. She has watched for the last three years as every step forward by USA Gymnastics is met with a step backward. Biles is intent on making sure she leaves gymnastics in a better place. She hopes the organization she competes for is sincere in its attempts to do the same.

For now, she doesn’t sound convinced.

“All we can do at this point is have faith that they’ll have our backs, they’ll do the right thing,” she said. “But at the end of the day it’s just a ticking time bomb. We’ll see. It’s a waiting game.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

U.S. Olympic 3×3 basketball qualifying teams named with former NBA player, WNBA stars

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former NBA player Robbie Hummel and WNBA stars lead U.S. Olympic qualifying teams in the new Olympic event of 3×3 basketball.

The four-man and four-woman teams will compete in a global qualifier in India in March, each favored to grab one of three available Olympic berths per gender for the U.S.

Hummel, who unretired to become world champion in 3×3, is joined on the U.S. Olympic men’s qualifying team by Team Princeton teammates Canyon Barry and Kareem Maddox, plus Dominique Jones, who has played with Team Harlem. Team Princeton is guided by an investment firm CEO who once beat Michael Jordan one-on-one.

Last year, Hummel, Maddox and Barry (one of Rick Barry‘s sons) were part of a team that won the world title.

The U.S. women’s 3×3 qualifying roster is made up of WNBA stars Napheesa Collier, Stefanie DolsonAllisha Gray and Kelsey Plum. The U.S.’ top-ranked 3×3 player, as of last month, is Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who can’t play internationally this spring as she is in the thick of the NCAA season.

Olympic teams will not necessarily be made up of players from the qualifying tournament.

If the U.S. qualifies for Tokyo, it will then choose its roster(s) in a similar fashion to its traditional basketball teams — via selection committee. It’s unlikely active NBA players will be eligible.

Like with the qualifying tournament, two of the four Olympic players must be ranked in the top 10 among Americans in FIBA 3×3 rankings (as of a May 22 cutoff).

In 3×3, games last 10 minutes, or until one team reaches 21 points. Games are played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock, and offense immediately turns to defense after a team scores.

MORE: Kobe Bryant embraced the Olympics, on and off the court

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

First U.S. sailors qualify for Olympics; gold medalist misses on tiebreak

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The first five members of the U.S. Olympic sailing team were finalized this past weekend. The last American sailor to win an Olympic title missed on a tiebreaker.

Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (49er FX), Anna Weis and Riley Gibbs (Nacra 17) and Charlie Buckingham (Laser) qualified after world championships competition concluded in Australia. The U.S. Olympic roster across all sports is now at 43 qualified athletes.

The closest race for a U.S. Olympic spot came in 49er FX. Roble and Shea edged Paris Henken and 2008 Olympic champion Anna Tobias on a tiebreak. Roble and Shea, both first-time Olympic qualifiers, won Saturday’s medal race and earned an overall bronze medal.

That put the two U.S. duos in a tie in Olympic qualifying — combining placements from the 2019 and 2020 Championships, according to TeamUSA.org. The tiebreak went to Roble and Shea for having the better finish at this year’s worlds.

Tobias, a 37-year-old who won the individual 2008 Olympic Laser Radial as Anna Tunnicliffe, came out of retirement in a bid for a third Olympics. She left competitive sailing in 2014, took up CrossFit competitions and returned to crew for Henken more than two years ago.

“We are very sad and upset,” was posted on Tobias’ Instagram, “but we wish them [Roble and Shea] the best of luck.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: LeBron, Curry lead finalists for Olympic men’s basketball roster