New USA Gymnastics president supports Simone Biles speaking out

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Li Li Leung wants Simone Biles to speak up whenever, however and wherever the Olympic gymnastics champion sees fit.

It’s a freedom that Leung, USA Gymnastics president and chief executive officer, stressed isn’t reserved for the sport’s biggest star. If the embattled organization truly is going to make a cultural shift in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal, Leung believes giving agency to all involved — from athletes to coaches to parents to club owners — isn’t just encouraged but required.

“Historically, our organization has silenced our gymnasts and I am 100% supportive of giving our athletes a voice,” Leung said Thursday in her first extended public remarks since taking over in March. “Our athletes should be able to say what they feel and be comfortable doing so. I understand that we have let down many athletes, we have let down Simone, and she needs time to heal from that. If voicing her concerns and her feelings is one way to do that, I am completely supportive of that.”

Biles took USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the FBI to task on Wednesday, angry over the findings in a congressional report that revealed a series of mistakes that allowed Nassar — a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University — to abuse athletes even after victims began to come forward.

“You literally had one job and you couldn’t protect us,” said Biles, who is among the hundreds of women abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment.

Leung understands Biles’ anger and her importance as a leading advocate for change. Leung said the two hugged and chatted briefly about setting up a time to talk in depth after the national championships wrap up.

In a way, Leung’s relationship with Biles mirrors the challenges she faces as the organization’s fourth president and CEO since March 2017. Leung played no role in creating the environment that let Nassar’s behavior to run unchecked for so long, a path that led to Nassar spending the rest of his life in prison and pushed one of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee programs to the brink of dissolution.

MORE: U.S. Gymnastics Championships TV Schedule

Yet Leung, a former collegiate gymnast, came forward anyway in an attempt to steer USA Gymnastics forward. The organization filed for bankruptcy last November to consolidate the dozens of civil lawsuits filed against it by Nassar victims, a move that also stayed the USOPC’s attempt to strip USA Gymnastics of its role as the sport’s national governing body.

The lawsuits are now in mediation in federal court in Indiana, something Leung hopes can be resolved in a “relatively efficient and short amount of time.” Leung said the organization remains in contact with the USOPC about the steps it is taking to re-create itself.

“We need to take steps to demonstrate why we should remain the NGB of gymnastics,” she said, citing leadership stability, financial stability, athlete safety and rebuilding trust within the community.

Leung said she has spoken with more than 400 members of the gymnastics community — including Nassar victims — in an attempt to create an open dialogue about what USA Gymnastics needs to become if it wants to survive.

USA Gymnastics is beefing up its staff to deal with the long road ahead.

Current job openings include a chief programming officer, a vice president for Safe Sport and a vice president of athlete health and wellness, a position Leung drew upon her own personal experiences to help create. Leung spent so much of her childhood in the gym that she believes she had the maturity of a 13-year-old when she went off to college. Finding the proper balance between training and personal lives remains a struggle to the current generation of athletes.

“I believe that we have as an organization a responsibility and an obligation to holistically develop our gymnasts and our athletes,” Leung said. “So it’s not just about developing a technically superior gymnast who performs well in the gym but it is about developing a holistic athlete who is best set up for life even beyond the sport.”

It’s part of Leung’s long-term vision for the sport but one only attainable if USA Gymnastics can find a way to restore faith in its mission. Transparency is a key part of the process, and Leung pointed to several changes made in recent months.

USA Gymnastics overhauled its selection procedures for all world championship and Olympic teams, mandating that an independent observer “from outside the gymnastics community” will sit in during the final selection meeting.

It is also making an effort to revamp its vetting process for job candidates after several hires — including Dr. Edward Nyman, who was removed as the first full-time director of sports medicine and science after just one day in April due to an unspecified conflict of interest — flamed out. Leung took responsibility for the mishandling of Nyman’s appointment, saying while the process of hiring Nyman was mostly complete by the time she took over, she still signed off on it.

″(Vetting) historically is not as robust as it needs to be,” she said. “And we are putting measures in place to ensure that every stone has been turned over.”

USA Gymnastics revealed a new Safe Sport policy in June designed to clear up “gray areas” over what constitutes improper contact. The policy is part of what she described as a “robust” plan to help educate the organization’s 200,000-plus members.

Leung said financial support for the elite programs remains stable, though she has made it a point not to court corporate sponsors “until we get our house in order.” USA Gymnastics did reach an agreement with Nike to outfit the athletes at competitions and Leung said there has been outreach from potential corporate partners.

All of those things, combined with what Leung called record ticket sales for this week’s U.S. Championships, point to forward momentum.

“I believe we are on a positive trajectory,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of strides. We’ve put a lot of building blocks in place.”

Progress will be measured in slow increments and critics remain skeptical. While Biles said Wednesday that “all we can do at this point is have faith that they’ll have our backs, they’ll do the right thing,” she added: “It’s a waiting game.”

One Leung understands needs to be played. She is aware USA Gymnastics has spent a significant portion of the last three years talking about change. Now, she believes, it is finally coming.

“This is still the beginning,” she said. “These are just some proof points we have under our belt. But we need many, many more to win back the trust of our community. But we are putting those steps in place.”

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MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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MORE: Ledecky, Manuel welcome Olympic decision after training in backyard pool

Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement