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Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 27 February 2018 11:31    PDF Print
'Shocked' Van Hoof Mulls Options After Dismissal from British Gymnastics
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Five months after he was suspended by British Gymnastics, former men's coach Eddie Van Hoof says he may go to court after he was fired last week by the federation over what it calls "irreconcilable differences." Pictured: Eddie Van Hoof and Nile Wilson following his bronze medal-winning performance on high bar at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Five months after he was suspended by British Gymnastics, former men's coach Eddie Van Hoof says he may go to court after he was fired last week by the federation over what it calls "irreconcilable differences."

The technical director of the British men's program since 2005, Van Hoof was suspended on November 29 amid allegations of misconduct. However, British Gymnastics never detailed the allegations against Van Hoof and did not cite any misconduct by Van Hoof in its public statement concerning his dismissal on Thursday.

British Gymnastics said in a statement that "the situation had become untenable."

"It became clear that there are irreconcilable differences between Eddie and British Gymnastics regarding the leadership, conduct and culture of elite coaching for our sport," the federation said.

According to The Guardian, Van Hoof stated that British Gymnastics told him he was being terminated because of insubordination toward British Gymnastics Performance Director James Thomas, "bullying" against an unspecified employee and "combative language or behavior" toward unspecified gymnasts. Van Hoof, 61, said he believes the real reason for his dismissal was because of his stance during the athlete contract dispute last year.

Van Hoof has been credited as the architect of the British men's phenomenal success over the past 10 years. Since 2009, only the Japanese and Chinese men have won more medals than the British men at the Olympic Games and world championships, and the British men amassed more medals overall at the past two Olympics with eight, compared with six each for China and Japan. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2017 New Year Honors for his contribution to the sport of gymnastics.

"The news of my dismissal is unexpected, undeserved and comes as a crushing blow after so many years of unwavering dedication," Van Hoof said.

Eddie Van Hoof at the 2016 Olympics

In a statement, British Gymnastics thanked Van Hoof for his contributions and wished him future success.

"It was best for all sides to bring matters to a close," British Gymnastics said.

However, the matter may not be over for Van Hoof, who told The Daily Telegraph he is weighing his legal options. He said in a statement that he was "shocked and dismayed" by his dismissal. British Gymnastics appointed a barrister to conduct the investigation into allegations against him, but according to Van Hoof, he was never allowed to see the report except for a brief summary.

Van Hoof said he believes the true reason he was dismissed was that he sided with the athletes against British Gymnastics during last year's contract dispute. He denies any allegations of misconduct, which he said were raised only after the issue with the contracts began.

"The concerns began to surface last August," Van Hoof stated, "shortly after I raised objections to the new world-class performance athlete agreements, which have rightly been a cause of widespread concern for leaving our leading British athletes open to exploitation. I stand by my support of our athletes on the issue of contracts, and I stand by my own conduct and professionalism during my time with British Gymnastics."

The national team members are required to sign the World Class Performance Programme contracts in order to receive funding from UK Sport, but many held out, including double Olympic champion Max Whitlock and the rest of the 2016 men's Olympic team. In August, the gymnasts were warned they had 72 hours to sign the contracts or risk having their funding cutoff. But the holdout continued as parents and agents expressed concern that the gymnasts were left open to financial exploitation by the federation by the "Individual Athlete Plan" portion of the contract. British Gymnastics was accused of wanting too much control over the athletes and not providing financial transparency. After multiple missed deadlines and continued negotiations, the majority of the contracts were reportedly signed in late December.

"My main concern about the agreements was the way in which they were presented to athletes," Van Hoof told The Guardian. "There was a widespread expectation that athletes would simply sign the new contracts without question. However, the athletes had received very little explanation about the content and the heavy legal terminology caused confusion about the meaning and implications of the agreements. After a long and unblemished career, I believe it may be more than a coincidence that a disciplinary process commenced so soon after I raised concerns around management issues at British Gymnastics, including the handling of the contracts."

Van Hoof told the newspaper that he cooperated fully with the investigation, giving hours of interviews with the independent investigator, but he was not given details of specific accusations against him.

"These allegations are basic outlines," Van Hoof said. "There is no clear detail or supporting examples, which make them hard to examine or challenge. Nonetheless, these accusations in no way match my own recollection of my behavior or my contribution to British Gymnastics over the last decade."

According to a spokesman for British Gymnastics, the governing body denied that its decision to suspend and investigate Van Hoof was in any way related to the issue with contracts, but did indicate his stance on the issue contributed to his dismissal.

"It is inaccurate to suggest that Eddie's suspension or the investigation were a reaction to Eddie objecting to the World Class Performance Athlete Agreements," the spokesman said. "However, his comments in relation to the agreements are a reflection of some of the irreconcilable differences between Eddie and British Gymnastics that resulted in his dismissal. British Gymnastics would not support a contract that exploits its athletes."

Born August 22, 1956, in Stainforth, South Yorkshire, Van Hoof was a member of the British national team from the late 1970s to 1985. He began the sport at around 12 years old at Stopsley High School in Luton, Bedfordshire, where he later trained at the Luton Gymnastics Club. He later studied physical education at Borough Road College in London, continuing his training at the famed Hendon Gymnastics Club. He competed at three consecutive world championships from 1979 to 1983 and competed at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where the British men finished ninth. He retired the following year to begin his national coaching career.

Van Hoof was the personal coach of Neil Thomas, the first British gymnast of the modern era to win medals at major international competitions. Van Hoof coached Thomas to Britain's first European championships medal, a bronze on vault in 1990. At the same competition, Thomas also debuted the element he developed with Van Hoof, a double-twisting layout front on floor exercise, known as the Thomas in the Code of Points.

From 1908 to 2008, the British men had won just three medals on the world stage: a silver in the all-around from Walter Tysall at the 1908 Olympic Games in London and silver medals on floor exercise from Thomas at the 1993 and 1994 World Championships. Great Britain was only 15th as a team at the 2007 World Championships, failing to send a full team to the Olympics in Beijing, where Louis Smith won the bronze medal on pommel horse.

Since Dan Keatings all-around silver medal at the 2009 Worlds, however, the British men have been a dominant force in the sport, amassing 12 world championship medals and eight Olympic medals. Only the Japanese men (40 medals) and Chinese (39 medals) have been more successful. Over the past 20 years, several programs have suddenly begun to produce individual stars, such as Brazil and the Netherlands, only the British men have become an actual powerhouse, demonstrated by winning team and all-around medals at both the world and Olympic Games.

Notably, Great Britain's eight medals (two golds, two silvers and four bronzes) won in London (three) and in Rio (five) are more than the Chinese men or Japanese men, who won six medals each across both Olympics. Great Britain has surpassed traditional powers including the United States, which has won 17 medals (13 world and four Olympic), Russia with 16 (10 world and six Olympic) and Germany (six world and 10 Olympic) from 2009-2017.

Additonally, since 2008, the British men have taken the team and all-around titles at every Junior European Championships, winning five consecutive occasions. Giarnni Regini-Moran was the star of the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, winning three golds and two bronzes. The British men's ability to develop so many talented juniors who easily move into the senior ranks has been a major factor in the team's success, foreign experts have noted.

Following Great Britain's record performance for men and women at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, UK Sports' Director of Performance Simon Timson credited Van Hoof and women's coach Amanda Reddin for creating a "clearly-defined technical curriculum" to help coaches train gymnasts to reach the international level. The thousands of coaches who had been trained according to the standard was a factor to UK Sport naming British Gymnastics its national governing body of the year in 2015.

In addition to his MBE, the Shropshire-based Van Hoof was given double honors as UK Coach of the Year and High-Performance Coach of the Year at the 2016 UK Sport Awards, presented by Princess Anne. In 1992, Van Hoof was recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) with the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy, only the second gymnast to be awarded the honor following Czech legend Věra Čáslavská in 1989.

He is married to prominent Canadian coach Carol-Angela Orchard (whose protégées include Olympians Monica Covacci, Luisa Portocarrero, Michelle Conway, and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, as well as current UCLA star Peng-Peng Lee), who relocated to Great Britain following the 2008 Olympic Games.

Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 20 February 2018 19:01    PDF Print
Figure Skating Star Alina Zagitova Most Admires Namesake Kabayeva
(11 votes, average 3.36 out of 5)

Russian figure skating sensation Alina Zagitova has no shortage of potential heroes among her compatriots, including reigning Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, 2014 Olympic star Yulia Lipnitskaya and training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva, but the 15-year-old Zagitova says she most admires rhythmic gymnastics legend Alina Kabayeva.

Russian figure skating sensation Alina Zagitova has no shortage of potential heroes among her compatriots — including reigning Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, 2014 Olympic star Yulia Lipnitskaya and training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva — but Zagitova says her idol remains rhythmic gymnastics legend Alina Kabayeva.

Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova set a new world-record score on Tuesday performing to "Swan Lake" at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

Zagitova, 15, took the lead after the women's short program Tuesday at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, where her stunning performance of "Swan Lake" (from the Black Swan soundtrack) set a new world-record score of 82.92 points, eclipsing the previous record set by Medvedeva only minutes before with 81.61.

Nicknamed the "Tatar Princess," Zagitova says she has always admired 2004 Olympic champion Alina Kabayeva, her superstar namesake. Zagitova has frequently cited Kabayeva as her idol because of her character and determination.

"I would like to get to know Alina Kabayeva," Zagitova said in December when asked who she would most like to meet. "This is not because I was named after her, but for her outstanding successes and for the fact that she has done a lot for Russia. I watched a lot of movies about her, her performances. In general, rhythmic gymnastics is one of my favorite sports, but if I had the choose between figure skating and rhythmic gymnastics, then, of course, I would choose the first one."

The Zagitova-Kabayeva parallels do not end with their common first name and heritage, but include similar career trajectories and high levels of difficulty in their dazzling performances. The junior world champion in 2017, Zagitova burst onto the senior scene over the last few months. Figure skating experts have been starstruck by her performances, and the superlatives have flown over the past week describing her technique and artistry.

In 2002, Zagitova was born May 18 less than a week after Kabayeva's birthday 19th birthday on May 12. But Zagitova's parents disagreed on the right name for their first-born child to such an extent that she went nameless until 2003.

"For a year after I was born they did not give me a name," said Zagitova, whose younger sister, Sabina, is also a figure skater. "One day my parents watched gymnastics on television and Alina Kabayeva performed. They exchanged glances and decided to name me Alina."

Kabayeva — like artistic gymnastics star Aliya Mustafina — was born to a Tatar father and Russian mother. Kabayeva's father, Marat Kabayev, was born in Uzbekistan to a family relocated from the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, where Zagitova's father, Ilnaz Zagitov, was born. Zagitova's mother, Leysan Zagitova, is of Russian and Tatar heritage.

Both Kabayeva and Zagitova began sports at a young age — Kabayeva began at age 3 and 1/2 and Zagitova at age 4. Both their fathers are professional athletes turned coaches — Marat Kabayev in football and Ilnaz Zigatov in hockey — but the two high-energy girls began sports at the insistence of their mothers. Originally, Kabayeva's mother, Lyubov, wanted to put her daughter in figure skating, but there were no suitable skating clubs in Tashkent where children could take lessons, so she took up rhythmic gymnastics instead. At age 12, Kabayeva moved to Moscow to begin training with Uzbek native Irina Viner.

Zagitova was born in Izhevsk, Republic of Udmurtia, but at age four months moved to Leninogorsk, Republic of Tatarstan, where her father played for the Neftyanik club. Her father took her to the skating rink frequently for fun, but there were no lessons available. After he transferred to another Neftyanik club in Almetyevsk, she began informal lessons at age 4 under coach Damira Pichugina. But when the family returned to Izhevsk in 2008, her mother insisted the 6-year-old Alina continue with classes under the top local coach Natalia Antipina. Antipina already had a top group of young girls who would reach the national level, including Alisa Lozko, Natalia Ogoreltseva and Diana Shamsutdinova, who all moved to Saint Petersburg eventually to continue their training. It was after a year of training with Antipina that Alina got serious about the sport.

Alina Kabayeva runs with the Olympic torch at the 2014 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sochi with fellow Russian sporting legends Yelena Isinbayeva (pole vault) and Maria Sharapova (tennis)

Only two years ago, the 13-year-old Zagitova chose to move to Moscow instead of Saint Petersburg, to train with Eteri Tutberidze. Tutberidze also coached Lipnitskaya, whose routine to the theme from Schindler's List mesmerized the world four years ago in Sochi, where she won a gold with the Russian team and silver in the individual final. Tutberidze also coaches Medvedeva, the 2016 and 2017 world champion, who until recently had been considered a lock for the Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Zagitova's sudden breakthrough is a shock to her as much as it is to anyone else. Tutberidze kicked her out of the club when Zagitova was frustrated by an injury, and she decided to call it quits and move back to Izhevsk. When she came to present flowers to Tutberidze as her goodbye, the coach reconsidered and asked her to stay. It's easy to understand Zagitova's admiration for Kabayeva's tenacity; she herself estimates she tried to quit figure skating seven times, but always changed her mind and came back.

Like Kabayeva, Zagitova won her first major title at age 15, taking the European championship title. Last month, Zagitova triumphed over Medvedeva at the European championships in Moscow, dealing her 18-year-old training partner her first defeat in two years. In December, Zagitova also captured the Grand Prix Finale and Russian championships while Medvedeva was absent with a foot injury.

In PyeongChang, Zagitova already won a team silver with the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), who are competing under a neutral flag due to the International Olympic Committee's punishment against Russia in response to the investigation into a state-run doping program. While the IOC agreed to allow Russia to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it banned Russia from PyeongChang. As part of a compromise, Russian athletes who passed certain requirements were allowed to compete in PyeongChang under the IOC flag. The Olympic Athletes from Russia have yet to win a gold medal in PyeongChang, but Zagitova may change that.

In a recent interview, Kabayeva expressed sympathy for the difficult situation facing the Russian athletes in PyeongChang.

"It won't be easy for the athletes who have received permission to participate in the Olympics," Kabayeva, 34, said. "To compete without a flag, without an anthem, under neutral symbolism ... After all, every athlete has a homeland, and there is a sense of national pride. This cannot be canceled or suspended."

Zagitova's lead over Medvedeva is so narrow that either could take the gold in PyeongChang. But if all goes her way in the long program, Zagitova won't follow in her idol's footsteps in her first Olympic appearance. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Kabayeva was the top gymnast in qualification but a disastrous drop with the hoop cost her the gold in the final, and she settled for bronze behind teammate Yulia Barsukova and Belarusian Yulia Raskina. Four years later in Athens, Kabayeva won the gold easily and retired in 2007, with 14 world medals (nine of them gold) and 21 European championship medals (18 gold).

Since her retirement, Kabayeva joined political life, serving in the State Duma for many years, and is now chairman of the boards of the corporation New Media Group and the Sport-Express group. She also runs a charity for low-income families and an annual rhythmic gymnastics festival. Despite frequent tabloid headlines that have linked her to Russian President Vladimir Putin for years, Kabayeva remains guarded about her personal life and declines all comment. She is frequently named among the powerful and influential women in Russia.

Alina Kabayeva in 1999

Last year, Kabayeva served as the ambassador for the 2017 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Pesaro, a new initiative for the International Gymnastics Federation FIG), which also had its first ambassadors in artistic gymnastics, Romania's Nadia Comaneci and Canada's Kyle Shewfelt, at the world championships in Montreal. Kabayeva, along with two-time Olympian Nellie Kim and Bulgaria gymnastics legend Vera Marinova Atkinson, were named earlier this month to the FIG's new ambassador commission, to select future ambassadors for FIG events.

After visiting the FIG headquarters recently in Lausanne, Kabayeva said she hopes the FIG will lobby for a full set of medals for rhythmic gymnastics at upcoming Olympic Games — currently only the individual all-around and group contests are awarded medals, unlike most competitions, which award individual apparatus medals as well. She also hopes the Code of Points for rhythmic gymnastics would return to rewarding more difficulty, citing figure skating as an example to follow.

"[When I competed] I did 17 or 18 elements in 90 seconds," Kabayeva said. "And now the gymnasts do only nine. Later, many complex elements were excluded from the Code of Points, while others were not used because the risks of doing them were large while their value was small. And the gymnasts didn't want to take any risks, which I'm very, very unhappy about. This shouldn't the way it is, because the sport of higher achievements is associated with increasing complexity. After all, nobody would ever ban pole vaults at the level of Lena Isinbayeva can do because it's dangerous. This is ridiculous because it contradicts the very essence of the highest achievements in sports."

Continued Kabayeva, "Why is rhythmic gymnastics limited? All the talk about the fact that difficult elements are supposedly dangerous to gymnasts' health don't stand up to criticism. In figure skating, for example, they already make jumps with four and almost five turns and no problems, but in rhythmic gymnastics they removed 20 of the most complicated elements, because they are supposedly dangerous. Elements for flexibility are harmful to the back, rotation on relevé is bad for the foot, etc., etc. We discussed this issue with Irina Alexandrovna (Viner) and came to the conclusion that we shouldn't deviate from our targetted level (of difficulty), at least within our country, so we should increase the difficulty of our rule in Russia to maintain a high level in the regions."

The long program for the women's individual figure skating will be held Friday in PyeongChang. Zagitova will skate to Don Quixote, which she performed in the team competition, and Medvedeva to Anna Karenina.

Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 13 February 2018 22:17    PDF Print
Manly: USAG Lied to Congress on Non-Disclosure Agreements
(11 votes, average 3.73 out of 5)

USA Gymnastics' reply to a Congressional inquiry claims that the federation never used confidentiality agreements in settlements with victims of sexual abuse with the exception of McKayla Maroney, a claim disputed by Maroney's lawyer. Pictured: American gymnast McKayla Maroney at the 2011 World Championships

USA Gymnastics' reply to a Congressional inquiry claims that the federation never used confidentiality agreements in settlements with survivors of sexual abuse with the exception of McKayla Maroney, a claim disputed by Maroney's lawyer.

California attorney John Manly, who represents many of the survivors suing USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and Michigan State University (MSU) over sexual abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar, said it's "a lie" that USAG's only non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was with Maroney.

"I've spoken with multiple athletes who were forced into signing NDAs with USAG," he told IG Tuesday evening.

USAG, the USOC and MSU provided written statements in response to a congressional inquiry that were released Tuesday by the Senate subcommittee led by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), members of the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security that has jurisdiction over the health and safety of American athletes, including those competing through the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The senators sent letters to all three institutions on January 25, the day after Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in Ingham County, Michigan, on seven charges of assault, the first of two public sentencing hearings in which any survivors of Nassar's abuse were allowed to speak. The letter inquired about "systemic failures to protect athletes from sexual abuse and the reported filing of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to silence a victim of abuse." On February 2, the senators broadened the scope of their investigation and sent letters to the other 53 national governing bodies (NGBs) under the U.S. Olympic Committee, after learning that two USOC executives were reportedly aware of sexual misconduct by Nassar one year before allegations against him became public and he was suspended by MSU in September 2016.

While represented by Gloria Allred, Maroney reportedly signed a settlement with USA Gymnastics for $1.25 million in December 2016, which Manly has stated was signed under duress as she desperately needed a medical intervention to save her life. (Her mother, in her own victim impact statement issued to the judge in Nassar's federal case, stated that McKayla had been suicidal.) The settlement reportedly contained a clause fining her $100,000 if she were to speak about the abuse, and also included a clause fining her parents the same amount if they were to speak about it, even though they were not party to any lawsuit and did not sign any agreement.

In October, as the #MeToo revolution spoke up, Maroney released a statement on Twitter sharing that she had also been sexually abused by Nassar multiple times, as well as drugged and assaulted by him at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. From 2011 to 2013, Maroney won three world championship gold medals, and gold and silver medals at the 2012 Olympics in London.

USA Gymnastics President & CEO Kerry Perry prefaced her responses to the senators' questions by stating she is new at the position and does not have first-hand knowledge of anything that occurred prior to December 1, 2017.

However, Manly took issue with Perry's response to the senators' fourth question, "Is it common practice by USOC and NGBs to utilize NDAs during investigations involving their organizations?" with a blanket response concerning USA Gymnastics history.

"USA Gymnastics has not used NDAs in conjunction with any investigation, but I cannot speak to the use of NDAs by other NGBs," Perry wrote.

Manly declined to say how many gymnasts he knew of who had signed NDAs with USAG, but said the athletes were in several states, not just California, where Maroney resides. Under California law, it is illegal to apply a confidentiality agreement in any civil case in which the underlying offense is a felony sex act. This law has been in place for several years. Maroney filed a lawsuit in December against USAG, USOC and MSU, which included that the previous settlement be set aside, including the confidentiality agreement, which is not only illegal but unenforceable according to California law.

In a deposition that took place in the spring of 2017, Manly asked then-USAG Chairman Paul Parilla, himself a retired judge, if he knew that such confidentiality agreements were illegal in California and how many other confidentiality agreements USAG had used with other Nassar victims. According to the deposition transcript, USAG's attorney instructed Parilla not to respond to either question.

In the USAG's statement, Perry wrote that USA Gymnastics had agreed to dissolve the confidentiality agreement with Maroney "and certain other settlement provisions challenged in her lawsuit."

There are three Congressional investigations underway in response to bipartisan outrage over the Nassar tragedy. More than 250 women came forward to issue statements at two hearings in Michigan in which they described being sexually abused by Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics, U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University team doctor. Many also accused USAG, USOC and MSU of failing to safeguard them from abuse and enabling Nassar's behavior.

Nassar, 54, was sentenced to a maximum of 300 years in prison for 10 counts of sexual assault. He pleaded guilty to the 10 counts in Michigan in addition to three counts in federal court related to child pornography. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison on the federal charges and was transferred to a maximum-security penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday. He is appealing the sentences.

More than 140 plaintiffs have joined a federal civil suit filed by Rachael Denhollander — who in September 2016 became the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault — against MSU, USAG, USOC, Nassar, John Geddert and Geddert's Twistars Gymnastics, the Michigan club where Nassar worked as a volunteer team coach for 20 years. USA Gymnastics has issued a motion to dismiss in Denhollander et al v MSU et al, denying liability in the case for any victims abused outside of Nassar's role with the U.S. national team.

The USOC's response to the Senate inquiry came from lawyer Brian D. Smith, of a Washington, D.C. law firm retained by the USOC. Smith wrote that the USOC's leadership was — "to the best of its current knowledge" — not aware of the settlement with Maroney, including the confidentiality agreement. The USOC also stated that it had begun its own investigation. The response also included an open letter from USOC CEO Scott Blackmun to athletes.

At least eight individuals have stated they informed MSU employees of Nassar's sexual assaults dating to 1997, and media investigations reported that at least 14 employees at MSU were aware of the allegations at some point. However, the university denied it had any knowledge of his sexual assaults, despite clearing him in its own investigation in 2014.

In its unsigned statement, MSU wrote that its current and past employees "have said that they do not remember the alleged reports to them (some of which would have taken place as many as 20 years ago) as they have been described. To date, there has been no indication that any MSU employee understood at any time prior to September 2016 that Nassar engaged in sexual misconduct. As noted earlier, MSU continues to investigate and may learn more as part of the litigation discovery process."

Perry's statement to the Senate also includes a questionable timeline in USA Gymnastics' response to Nassar. Contrary to statements made by Maggie Nichols and her family, that she and her coach, Sarah Jantzi, were the first to notify USA Gymnastics of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, Perry's letter claims that "on June 17, 2015, USA Gymnastics was contacted by a member coach regarding her athlete being uncomfortable with treatment she received from Dr. Nassar. This was not a report of abuse but led the organization to conduct three athlete interviews to learn more."

Nichols came forward on January 9 to reveal that she was "Athlete A," the first-known gymnast to report sexual abuse by Larry Nassar to USA Gymnastics, after her coach overheard her discussing Nassar's "treatments" at the Karolyi ranch national team training center. In her statement, she twice states that she reported abuse, not that she reported being "uncomfortable:" "In the summer of 2015, my coach and I reported this abuse to USA Gymnastics leadership.... My coach thought it was wrong, so she did the right thing and reported this abuse to the USA Gymnastics staff."

In her civil lawsuit against USAG and other parties, the complaint states that Jantzi "reported Defendant Nassar's misconduct to Defendant USAG officials" and Nichols' parents, that "Nassar's misconduct was reported to Defendant USAG's immediate past president Steve Penny, among other officials," and that "On multiple occasions Mr. Penny discouraged [Nichols'] parents from reporting Defendant Nassar's conduct to law enforcement and pressured them to keep the matter quiet."

Also on January 9, USA Gymnastics issued a statement in which it claimed that "Maggie's conversation overheard by a coach and her willingness to be interviewed about her comments and experiences initiated the process that resulted in the conviction of Larry Nassar for the reprehensible crimes he committed." This is contrary to all known facts in the case, as USA Gymnastics only reportedly informed the FBI at some point about Nassar, but the FBI took no consequential action. Nichols was not interviewed until more than a year after she made her report.

Nassar's arrest and conviction in Michigan were the result of Denhollander's report to the MSU Police Department on August 29, 2016, and The Indianapolis Star publishing her story September 12, 2016, along with the similar allegations by two anonymous women, later identified as Jamie Dantzscher and Jessica Howard, which resulted in dozens more women contacting MSU Police to file additional police reports. The MSU Police, in cooperation with the Michigan Attorney General, led the investigation into Nassar, which led to his arrest on November 22, 2016. After more than 100 had come forward, Nassar pleaded guilty in a plea agreement with the Michigan Attorney General exactly one year after charges were announced. His conviction in the child pornography case was also the result of Denhollander's report to the MSU Police, which issued a search warrant for Nassar's home on September 20, 2016.

The FBI has refused to comment on its inaction in the case. According to reports, more than 40 women and girls were sexually abused by Nassar between the time Maggie Nichols reported the abuse in June 2015 and when Nassar was suspended by MSU on August 30, 2016, the day after Rachael Denhollander filed her police report with the MSU Police.

Manly said he was bewildered by USAG's official statement in response to the Senate inquiry and wondered if Perry was even aware of the ramifications. Manly noted that USAG's statement was personally signed by Perry, unlike the USOC's statement, which came from an outside attorney, and MSU's unsigned statement.

"That woman needs to get her own lawyer," Manly said in reference to Perry.

Click here to read the letter from Sen. Blumenthal and Sen. Moran to USA Gymnastics. (January 25, 2018)
Click here to read the full response from USAG CEO Kerry Perry. (February 9, 2018)
Click here to read the full USOC response from attorney Brian D. Smith. (February 9, 2018)
Click here to read the full response from the MSU. (February 12, 2018)

Written by Amanda Turner    Saturday, 10 February 2018 09:08    PDF Print
Nassar Transferred to Arizona Federal Prison
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar has been transferred to a high-security federal prison in Tucson, the federal inmate locator showed Saturday, where he will likely spend the rest of his life alongside other sex offenders.

Editor's Note: This article contains graphic content about child pornography and child sexual abuse.

Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar has been transferred to a high-security federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, where he will likely spend the rest of his life alongside other sex offenders. According to the Michigan Attorney General's Office, more than 300 individuals have been identified as victims of the doctor who preyed upon patients and other young girls.

Nassar, 54, was sentenced to 60 years on federal charges related to child pornography in December, a sentence he must serve before he theoretically begins serving his Michigan state sentences on sexual assault. Now federal inmate No. 21504-040, his earliest release date is March 23, 2069, when his age would be 106. He was also ordered to pay more than $57,000 in restitution to five victims abused in the files he downloaded.

On Monday, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in Michigan prison by Eaton County Judge Janice K. Cunningham on three counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. On January 24, he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on seven counts of criminal sexual conduct by Ingham County Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina. More than 200 survivors delivered victim impact statements at his sentencing hearings, sharing shocking accounts of grotesque sexual abuse by the once-trusted doctor. Nassar pleaded guilty to the 10 counts in November, after more than a year of denying he ever assaulted anyone, claiming he was performing valid osteopathic techniques when penetrating young girls and women. He also molested a family friend, beginning when she was just 6 years old.

Nassar's federal and state sentences are to be served consecutively and not concurrently, which means a total sentence of 140 to 360 years in prison. He received the maximum sentence in each of the three cases.

Nassar must first serve his federal sentence for receipt of and possession of child pornography and for obstruction of justice. According to the federal sentencing memo, Nassar "amassed an enormous collection of abominable images" involving the graphic abuse and rape of children "as young as infants." A forensic examination of the drives showed that between 2003 and 2016, he downloaded more than 37,000 photos and videos. After the first accusations against him were made public in September 2016, he attempted to destroy evidence, throwing away hard drives at home and hiring a professional to erase his work-issued laptop. The hard drives were recovered in the trash on the street by the Michigan State University Police, who happened to find them because the trash service was late that day. He was indicted in December 2016 and pleaded guilty to all three charges in July; he received 20 years in prison on each count.

As part of the plea agreement, the federal government did not charge him with his sexual assaults on four national team gymnasts in violation of 18 United States Code § 2423 (b) Travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and (c) engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. This decision not to charge him was made with the agreement of the four victims in question, according to the sentencing memorandum.

Nassar was also not charged with the creation of child pornography despite police reports that stated video footage was discovered of him assaulting a young girl in the pool at his home in Holt, Michigan. However, Nassar explicitly agreed that "in determining the sentence, the Court may consider uncharged conduct in determining" his sentence, as well as his pattern of behavior concerning the assaults he pleaded guilty to in state court.

Until Friday, Nassar was still at a low-security federal prison in Milan, Michigan, south of Ann Arbor, prior to being transferred to Tucson United States Penitentiary (USP) in Pima County, Arizona. Tucson USP is relatively new, being completed in 2005. According to a 2017 Federal Bureau of Prisons report, the compound is situated on 670 acres and includes the all-male maximum-security penitentiary that now houses Nassar, the Federal Correctional Institution for men and women, and an adjacent minimum-security federal prison camp. Tucson USP houses nearly 1,400 inmates, the mass majority of which are sex offenders. Notable inmates at Tucson USP include Bryan David Mitchell, who is serving a life sentence for the 2002 abduction and sexual assault of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart.

The Tucson USP is the only federal prison able to house Nassar, who is required to be in a Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP), available at only a few federal facilities. All federal inmates sentenced to more than 30 years must be placed in a high-security facility; Tucson is the only high-security facility with a SOMP.

Nassar offered weak apologies at all three of his sentencing hearings. Despite Nassar's guilty pleas and apologies, Judge Aquilina read portions of a six-page letter he had written after the sentencing hearing began in her courtroom on January 16, in which Nassar claimed he was innocent and that his victims were all ungrateful patients who had been brainwashed by the media into believing he had abused them.

Nassar, along with USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and Geddert's Twistars Gymnastics, is being sued by more than 140 individuals in a federal civil lawsuit, Denhollander et al v MSU et al. The U.S. Olympic Committee is also being sued by several individuals related to Nassar's sexual abuse that occurred at the Karolyi ranch and at various Olympic Games. Nassar lost the case by default as he has filed no motions in the case.

The parade of women and their loved ones who spoke at the sentencing stunned and angered the world with their stories of not only sexual abuse but also injustice and indifference from the institutions that have been accused of protecting and enabling Nassar for decades.

At the Ingham County hearing, survivors Emma Ann Miller, 15, and Kaylee Lorincz, 17, called on Nassar to name names and reveal anyone who enabled his decades of sexual assaults.

"Instead of getting up at your sentencing, giving some hollow, insincere apology, you could outline all the times — for me, for us — that MSU, Twistars and USAG should have stopped you," Miller told Nassar on January 22. "Do the right thing for us. Be honest, try and help us. Tell us who knew what and when. Tell us how and when there were opportunities to stop you. Tell us about the tell-tale signs that others at MSU, Twistars and USAG should have seen but didn't. In one of your last public acts, actually help someone."

Lorincz, the second-to-last survivor to speak at the Ingham County hearing, referenced Nassar's statement from his November 22 plea deal that he wanted the community to heal when she also implored him to tell the truth.

"I only hope when you get a chance to speak, you tell us who knew what and when they knew it," Lorincz said. "If you truly want us to heal, you will do this for us."

Instead, Nassar merely read a short statement of apology. It is likely that attorneys will attempt to depose him in prison for the federal lawsuit.

Nassar is appealing his federal sentence through the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He is now represented by a court-appointed attorney as he filed his appeal in forma pauperis, meaning he is now indigent.

Many of the survivors of Nassar's abuse have stated that his sentencing has not ended the case, and that they are just getting started with the fight for justice in one of the worst sex abuse cases in history. In addition to multiple resignations at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University over Nassar, pressure has continued to mount for U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun to resign. Multiple criminal and institutional investigations have begun in the matter, including two Congressional investigations.

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 08 February 2018 05:00    PDF Print
World Cup Season Begins in Melbourne, Chicago
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

The 2018 FIG World Cup season kicks off February 22-25 in Melbourne with an apparatus-only tournament, followed a week later by the American Cup in Chicago, the first of four all-around competitions this year. Pictured: Georgia-Rose Brown (Australia)

The 2018 FIG World Cup season kicks off later this month in Melbourne with an apparatus-only tournament, followed a week later by the American Cup on March 3 in Chicago, the first of four all-around competitions this year.

The Melbourne World Cup features a full roster of gymnasts from Australia and China. Japan is also sending four male gymnasts, including 2013 world pommel horse champion Kohei Kameyama. World champions Morgan Hurd (United States) and Kenzo Shirai (Japan) headline the 43rd American Cup.

The 2018 season is the busiest yet for the FIG, with a record 14 competitions across four continents from February to November. The spring schedule is so packed that apparatus and all-around World Cup events will take place simultaneously on back-to-back weekends in March. The 3rd AGF Trophy will return March 15-18 to Baku, while the 35th EnBW DTB-Pokal Cup takes place March 17-18 in Stuttgart. The 11th Doha World Cup will be held March 21-24 at the Aspire Dome — site of this fall's world championships — as the Birmingham World Cup takes place March 21-22 in England.

The overall winner of the four all-around competitions this spring — taking place in Chicago, Stuttgart, Birmingham and Tokyo — will again be a country rather than an individual gymnast. The same nations are invited to compete in each competition, and gymnasts will amass points for their respective countries based on their rankings.

2018 FIG World Cup Calendar
February 22-252nd Melbourne World CupMelbourneApparatus World Cup
March 343rd American CupChicago, IllinoisAll-Around World Cup
March 15-183rd AGF TrophyBakuApparatus World Cup
March 17-1835th EnBW DTB-Pokal CupStuttgartAll-Around World Cup
March 21-22FIG World Cup Birmingham, EnglandAll-Around World Cup
March 21-2411th Doha World Cup DohaApparatus World Cup
April 14FIG World Cup TokyoAll-Around World Cup
May 24-27Grand Prix Osijek Žito Challenge CupOsijekApparatus World Challenge Cup
May 31-June 3FIG World Challenge CupKoperApparatus World Challenge Cup
June 14-17FIG World Challenge CupGuimarãesApparatus World Challenge Cup
July 6-8FIG World Challenge CupMersinApparatus World Challenge Cup
September 21-23FIG World Challenge CupSzombathelyApparatus World Challenge Cup
September 27-30FIG World Challenge CupParisApparatus World Challenge Cup
November 22-2543rd Turnier der MeisterCottbusApparatus World Cup

In the all-around series, Germany is the defending World Cup champions for the women, with Kim Bui taking second at the American Cup and Tabea Alt winning in Stuttgart and London last spring. Oleg Vernyayev led Ukraine to victory with a second-place at the American Cup and victories in Stuttgart and London as well. (Vernyayev, who has competed without a break since 2012, will be sitting out this year because of leg and shoulder injuries.)

Known as the AT&T American Cup since 2011, the tournament lost its title sponsor last month in more fallout from the Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics is organizing the event without the help of AT&T, which joined Proctor & Gamble, Under Armour and Hershey's in canceling or not renewing their support for the troubled federation.

Neverthless, the competition has attracted an impressive field. Hurd will be joined by 2017 U.S. junior champion Maile O'Keefe, world floor exercise champion Mai Murakami (Japan), recent Elite Canada champion Brooklyn Moors, and Olympians Elisabeth Seitz (Germany) and Mao Yi. Along with O'Keefe, tricksters Fabiane Brito (2017 Brazilian junior champion) and Sanna Veerman (2017 Dutch junior all-around runner-up). British veteran Kelly Simm, a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2015 World Championships, rounds out the women's field.

Shirai, the world all-around bronze medalist and world champion on floor and vault, has said he is on a mission to stay among the top group of all-arounders in 2018. Reigning champion Yul Moldauer (United States) will attempt to defend his title in Chicago. His University of Oklahoma teammate Allan Bower, who took second to Moldauer at last year's U.S. championships, will be competing in his second all-around World Cup after finishing seventh last year in Stuttgart.

China's Sun Wei is slated for his third consecutive American Cup, finishing third in 2016 and seventh in 2017. Great Britain's James Hall, fifth last year in Stuttgart, will be making his American Cup debut. The lanky Petro Pakhnyuk, who returned to Ukraine last year after several years competing for Azerbaijan, is taking up the reigns in Vernyayev's absent as his country's top all-arounder. 2016 Olympian Francisco Barretto (Brazil) and 2017 world all-around finalists Philipp Herder (Germany) and Joel Plata (Spain) round out the men's field.

Seitz and Herder headline the Stuttgart World Cup along with three-time Olympian Marcel Nguyen. The strong lineup also includes Olympic gold medalist Yusuke Tanaka, British veteran Dan Purvis, Russian Olympians Angelina Melnikova and David Belyavsky, and Americans Jordan Chiles and Akash Modi.

The British gymnasts scheduled for the Birmingham World Cup were named on January 30, with the four gymnasts selected visiting a city school to make the announcement. European champion Ellie Downie will return to competition after missing last year's world championships with an injury. James Hall and 2016 Olympians Nile Wilson and Claudia Fragapane will also represent Great Britain at Arena Birmingham.

Melnikova, Nguyen, Pakhnyuk and Sun Wei will also be in Birmingham, alongside Russian Olympian Nikita Nagornyy, Japan's Hitomi Hatakeda and Americans Margzetta Frazier and Donathan Bailey.

The 2019-2020 World Cup circuit will serve as an individual qualifer to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

2nd Melbourne World Cup
February 22-25, 2018

Women's Competitors
Georgia-Rose Brown
Alexandra Eade
Georgia Godwin
Naomi Lee
Maddie Leydin
Rianna Mizzen
Isabel Barbosa
Chen Yile
Du Siyu
Li Qi
Liu Jinru
Aruna Budda Reddy
Pranati Nayak
Farah Ann Abdul Hadi
Yueh Tan Ing
Stella Ashcroft
Maia Fishwick
Estella Matthewson
Charlotte Ryan
Nadine Joy Nathan
Ng Le En
Zeng Qiyan
Tjaša Kysslef
Men's Competitors
Michael Mercieca
Mitchell Morgans
Christopher Remkes
Heath Thorpe
Michael Tone
Luke Wadsworth
Luís Porto
Gustavo Polato
Ge Shihao
Ma Yue
Tan Di
Weng Hao
Wu Guanhua
Wu Xiaoming
Matija Baron
Kristijan Vugrinski
Ashish Kumar
Rakesh Patra
Keisuke Asato
Kohei Kameyama
Hidetaka Miyachi
Kazuyuki Takeda
Danil Baturin
Yerbol Jantykov
Milad Karimi
Azizbek Kudratullayev
Nariman Kurbanov
Robert Tvorogal
Phay Xing Loo
Fu Jie Tan
Robert Honiball
David Bishop
Ethan Dick
Kyleab Ellis
Rafael Ablaza
Carlos Edriel Yulo
Aizat Bin Muhammad Jufrie
Hoe Wah Toon
Lim Kaeson
Tay Wei An Terry
Yeo Xong Sean
Sašo Bertoncelj
Rok Klavora
Lee Chih Kai

43rd American Cup
March 3, 2018, Chicago, Illinois

Women's Competitors
Fabiane Brito
Brooklyn Moors
Mao Yi
Kelly Simm
Elisabeth Seitz
Mai Murakami
Sanna Veerman
Morgan Hurd
Maile O'Keefe
Men's Competitors
Francisco Barretto
Sun Wei
James Hall
Philipp Herder
Kenzo Shirai
Joel Plata
Petro Pakhnyuk
Allan Bower
Yul Moldauer

35th EnBW DTB-Pokal Cup
March 17-18, 2018, Stuttgart

Women's Competitors
Rose-Kaying Woo
Zhang Jin
Georgia Mae Fenton
Elisabeth Seitz
Sarah Voss
Nagi Kajita
Naomi Visser
Angelina Melnikova
Jordan Chiles
Men's Competitors
Sun Wei
Dan Purvis
Marcel Nguyen
Philipp Herder
Yusuke Tanaka
Frank Rijken
David Belyavsky
Petro Pakhnyuk
Akash Modi

2018 Birmingham World Cup
March 21-22, Birmingham, England

Women's Competitors
Ellie Downie
Claudia Fragapane
Thaís Santos
Liu Jieyu
Sarah Voss
Hitomi Hatakeda
Vera van Pol
Angelina Melnikova
Margzetta Frazier
Men's Competitors
James Hall
Nile Wilson
Lucas Bitencourt
Sun Wei
Marcel Nguyen
Shogo Nonomura
Nikita Nagornyy
Petro Pakhnyuk
Donothan Bailey

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