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College gymnast dies after practice accident

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An accomplished gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University has died following a serious spinal cord injury suffered in a training accident.

Melanie Coleman, 20, of Milford, Connecticut, was training Friday at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden when she was injured, said her mother, Susan Coleman.

She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and died Sunday.

Coleman was a former All State gymnast at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and was captain of the school’s gymnastics team. She was named a Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American this year.

Her former club coach, Tom Alberti, said she attained a level 10, the highest level in the USA Junior Olympics Program.

She was a junior studying nursing, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, her mother said.

“She’s from a very large, loving family; there’s seven of us, we were the Coleman seven,” Susan Coleman said. “We spent every day together for the past 20 years.”

She volunteered at the gym where her accident occurred.

Her coaches and professors described her as a special young woman who excelled in both the classroom and gym, college President Joe Berolino said in a written statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are extended to her family and friends on this tragic loss,” he said.

People the family has met by traveling to gymnastics events around the country are giving support that is “holding us up,” Coleman’s mother said.

She described her children, which also include two sons older than Melanie, as “inseparable.”

“We’re going to leave an empty space in our photos for her” from now on, Susan Coleman said.

Athlete abuse watchdog starts series of hearings on Larry Nassar case and beyond

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The Game Over commission, a group founded by child-abuse prevention think tank CHILD USA, is taking its first major step in an independent investigation of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case and related institutional issues with a public hearing Monday in Philadelphia.

The daylong hearing is being live-streamed.

After a series of hearings and other investigative work, Game Over plans to come up with a list of recommendations to reform U.S. sports. Once the work is complete, its data will be available to the public.

The hearing opens this morning with testimony from abuse survivors. This afternoon at 1:15 p.m. ET, the session will move into a discussion of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the evolution of SafeSport efforts. At 2:30 p.m. ET, a panel of journalists will describe how they investigated reports of abuse, including the Nassar case.

Nassar has been sentenced to multiple lengthy prison sentences in the wake of sexual abuse accusations by hundreds of gymnasts. Michigan State University, which employed Nassar, reached a $500 million settlement in 2018 with the 332 survivors who had come forward at that time.

Prominent sexual abuse complaints have also been raised in other Olympic sports, including swimming, diving, taekwondo, figure skating and speedskating.

Concurrently, Olympic sports federations launched various internal watchdog efforts and in 2017 established the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a body akin to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The cases have been investigated multiple times so far. In July, U.S. senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal released a report summing up their investigation and wrote the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019, which would give Congress direct oversight over U.S. sports federations. The bill has not advanced out of committee. Neither have overlapping bills by Rep. Diana DeGette and Sen. Cory Gardner.

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Laurie Hernandez begins gymnastics comeback at national team camp

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Laurie Hernandez‘s comeback will become official in two weeks when she participates in a USA Gymnastics national team camp for the first time since she last competed at the Rio Olympics.

Hernandez’s agent, plus USA Gymnastics high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster confirmed this week that Hernandez accepted an invitation to the camp in Sarasota, Fla.

Hernandez, a Rio Olympic team gold medalist and balance beam silver medalist, said in August that she hoped to attend the November camp and return to competition in early 2020. She alluded to the November camp in a tweet last week. She has said she hopes to make the Tokyo Olympic team.

“If she can do what she did then [in 2016], she would be in the mix,” Forster said.

Forster described the camp as an offseason, working camp. Gymnasts won’t have to demonstrate full routines. Rather, their hardest tumbling pass, a vault and a couple of skill sequences on balance beam and uneven bars.

“Coaches share with us plans on skills and routines for next year, and we help them,” Forster said. “That’s part of the camp, and that’s why Laurie wants to be there. It gets her and her coaches exposed to current rules and trends.”

Forster said he did not request Hernandez to submit training videos to show readiness to be invited to camp. Her showing up to the U.S. Championships in August as a spectator, and conversing with him, and being an Olympic medalist, was enough. Hernandez said then that she hoped to compete in early 2020, but Forster said nothing has been set yet.

She is not a national team member (yet), and Simone Biles and others from last month’s world championships team are excused from this camp.

“She’s very aware of what the skill level is that she’s going to be competing against,” Forster said. “If she says she’s ready to come to camp, I know she knows what she’s up against as far as what skills people are doing.”

Hernandez, a 19-year-old New Jersey native, returned to training about one year ago at a new California gym with new coaches after two years off.

In the last Olympic cycle, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman took breaks, but they returned earlier than Hernandez, competing again more than a year before the Rio Games. They both made the five-woman team for Rio.

But previous comebacks did not work out. 2008 Olympians Nastia LiukinShawn JohnsonAlicia SacramoneChellsie Memmel and Bridget Sloan all attempted to make the 2012 team but, for various reasons, did not make the cut.

Hernandez faces this different situation: Olympic team-event sizes drop from five gymnasts in 2012 and 2016 to four in 2020, putting a greater emphasis on gymnasts who can perform well on all four apparatuses.

The U.S. can also qualify up to two more gymnasts for individual Olympic events only. Jade Carey appears on her way to locking up one of those spots. The other spot, which would be up to a USA Gymnastics committee to dole out, will likely go to a gymnast who is strong on multiple events in case she needs to be called up for the four-woman team event in case of an injury.

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