Tom Forster, U.S. women’s gymnastics team leader, steps down

USA Gymnastics
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U.S. women’s gymnastics high-performance director Tom Forster is stepping down at the end of the year.

USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday night that Forster will leave his position on Dec. 31. Forster, who took over the program in June 2018, helped the U.S. women win team gold at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships and silver at the Tokyo Olympics.

Forster said he was proud of what the program accomplished during his tenure. He did not immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press.

“My passion for this sport has always been working with coaches and athletes to bring out the best in each,” he said in a statement.

USA Gymnastics will begin a search for the next program director soon. Forster will attend January’s scheduled national team camp as a guest.

Forster took over one of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee programs at a tumultuous time as it dealt with the fallout of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. He was the program’s third national team coordinator in less than two years. Martha Karolyi retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics and Valeri Liukin, Karolyi’s replacement, stepped down in February 2018.

The Americans maintained their status as the sport’s most dominant force through major competitions in 2018 and 2019 thanks in large part to the brilliance of five-time world all-around champion and 2016 Olympic all-around champion Simone Biles.

The U.S. reign ended in Tokyo. The Russians topped the Americans in qualifying, then soared to their first team gold in nearly 30 years, an event best remembered for Biles’ decision to remove herself from competition because of a mental block that prevented her from performing her risky routines.

The U.S. did, however, maintain its grip on the all-around as Sunisa Lee edged Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, becoming the fifth straight American woman to claim the Olympic crown. Biles returned on the final day of competition to claim bronze on the balance beam to give her seven Olympic medals, tying the most ever by an American gymnast.

Whoever takes over will find the women’s elite program in transition. Four members of the 2020 Olympic team — Lee, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum and Jade Carey — will begin competing collegiately in January. MyKayla Skinner, who won silver on vault, retired, and Biles is in no hurry to decide whether she will attempt to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Biles, one of the hundreds of women abused by Nassar, a former national team doctor, has been a vocal critic of USA Gymnastics through the years.

“Wait till y’all realize the real problem with USAG isn’t Tom,” Biles tweeted Wednesday night.

USA Gymnastics has undergone a significant leadership overhaul in the five years since Nassar survivors first came forward. The organization may be near the end of its lengthy mediation with survivors. A vast majority of survivors approved a proposed $425 million settlement with USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

A hearing on confirmation of the settlement is scheduled for next week in Indianapolis.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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