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Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 01 March 2018 18:02    PDF Print
First Male Victim Files Suit in Nassar Case
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

A male gymnast who alleges he was sexually abused by Larry Nassar after the former doctor left USA Gymnastics has become the first male victim to file suit against Nassar, USAG, Michigan State University and others in the worst sexual abuse case in sports history.

A male gymnast who alleges he was sexually abused by Larry Nassar after the former doctor left USA Gymnastics has become the first male victim to file suit against Nassar, USAG, Michigan State University and others in the worst sexual abuse case in sports history.

In one of six amended complaints filed Wednesday in federal court, Jacob Moore joined his elder sister Kamerin Moore as a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit Denhollander et al v Michigan State University et al. While delivering her victim impact statement at Nassar's first state sentencing hearing in January, Kamerin Moore, a former U.S. national team member, accused Nassar of also sexually assaulting her younger brother under the guise of medical treatment.

Moore's allegation is the first known instance of Nassar abusing a male; according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office, more than 300 people had come forward to file complaints against him as of early February. Nassar, who was stripped of his medical license in April 2017, has been sentenced to a combined 300 years in prison by three judges. He is currently serving a 60-year sentence in a maximum-security federal prison in Tucson on child pornography charges.

According to the complaint, Jacob Moore sought treatment from Nassar for shoulder pain in April 2016, when he was still 15. The lawsuit alleges that the doctor administered acupuncture to the teenager's "pubic area and in and around his genitalia ostensibly for the purpose of treating his shoulder pain."

The lawsuit also alleges that Nassar pulled down Moore's pants and exposed him to a minor female gymnast, who was also present at the time. Nassar "discussed the fact that he was exposing Plaintiff Jacob Moore to the minor female gymnast with the minor gymnast."

When Kamerin Moore spoke at the sentencing hearing, she described her brother suffering shock and emotional distress after only recently realizing there was no legitimate medical benefit to what Nassar had inflicted upon him. Her brother, she said, had scoured the Internet in vain in the hope that there was a real medical link between the pubic region and shoulder that would have justified any use of acupuncture to reduce shoulder pain.

Jacob Moore, who turns 19 on May 29, was a member of the U.S. men's junior national team from 2015-17. He is now a freshman at the University of Michigan and member of the Wolverines gymnastics team.

The assault on Moore occurred approximately 10 months after USA Gymnastics was alerted that Nassar had sexually assaulted Maggie Nichols; Nichols and her coach, Sarah Jantzi, reported him to USA Gymnastics in June 2015. USA Gymnastics now denies that Nichols or her coach ever reported she was sexually assaulted in June 2015 and now claim she only complained she was "uncomfortable" by Nassar's treatment.

USA Gymnastics claimed it reported Larry Nassar to the FBI in July 2015. Nassar announced publicly he was retiring from USA Gymnastics in September 2015. However, he continued practicing medicine for a year. He was suspended from his job by Michigan State University on August 30, 2016, one day after Rachael Denhollander reported to the MSU Police that he had sexually assaulted her in 2000, when she was a teenaged gymnast, while claiming he was performing a valid osteopathic procedure to treat her back pain. On September 12, The Indianapolis Star printed Denhollander's account of sexual assault, the news that a 2000 Olympian (since identified as Jamie Dantzscher) had filed a civil suit in California alleging assault by the former USA Gymnastics team doctor and that a third gymnast had contacted the newspaper to share a similar story of assault. The number of women reporting they had endured the same soon reached double digits, and Nassar was fired from Michigan State University on September 20, 2016.

Now a lawyer, Denhollander was the first to file a federal lawsuit against Nassar and Michigan State University in January 2017 and has since been joined by more 150 other plaintiffs. There are multiple lawsuits linked together, with some plaintiffs suing different defendants.

Nassar has defaulted in the civil suits by failing to mount a defense, but the other defendants have filed motions to dismiss. In addition to Nassar, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, the defendants include the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, multiple individuals at MSU, the Twistars USA club and its former owner, 2012 U.S. Olympic head coach John Geddert. Geddert, who announced his retirement from coaching last month after being suspended by USA Gymnastics, has been accused of ignoring reporting reports of Nassar's abuse since 1998 and even making a joke about it after allegedly witnessing Nassar sexually assaulting a minor.

The lawsuits list dozens of charges against the various defendants related to violation of civil rights, negligence and fraud. On Wednesday, the second amended complaint brought by Katherine Payne, Maureen Baum, Katherine Rasmussen, Melissa Imrie, Jane G2 Doe, and Jane G3 Doe accuse USA Gymnastics, Twistars, Geddert and Nassar of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO (18 United States Code §1964). The lawsuit alleges that through their actions, the defendants essentially formed an enterprise for mutual financial benefit and "engaged in racketeering activity to wit sex trafficking of children by fraud."

According to the complaint, "The purpose of the Enterprise in part was to create a system by which Defendant Nassar was enabled to engage in commercial sex acts with young gymnasts through a fraudulent representation that he was engaged in legitimate medical treatment. The Enterprise engaged in fraud by either knowingly or with reckless disregard of the truth, affirmatively representing to gymnasts and the public at large that Defendant Nassar was a competent and ethical physician."

The amended complaints include more than a dozen new plaintiffs, some of whom were members of the U.S. junior and senior national teams. Jane A93 Doe is a current member of the national team.

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 01 March 2018 13:42    PDF Print
2021 World Gymnastics Championships Awarded to Copenhagen
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

The 2021 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships have been awarded to Copenhagen, Denmark, the International Gymnastics Federation announced Thursday. Pictured: The new Royal Arena, which opened in February 2017, will be the venue for the 2021 World Championships.

The 2021 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships have been awarded to Copenhagen, Denmark, the International Gymnastics Federation announced Thursday.

The artistic gymnastics world championships were first staged in Denmark in 2006, when Aarhus played host to the event. The competition is scheduled for October 18-24, 2021.

"As Hans Christian Andersen has inspired the imagination of thousands of children around the world with his famous tales that give food for thought, I hope that these world championships will inspire the young generation by showing the values of sport," FIG President Morinari Watanabe said.

The Copenhagen worlds will take place at the city's new Royal Arena venue, a 35,000-square-meter sporting and cultural center that opened in February 2017. With a seating capacity between 13,000 to 17,000, Royal Arena has became the Danish capital's premiere staging facility for concerts and shows, already used as a tour stop for musical acts such as Metallica, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart and Céline Dion, comedians Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais, and Cirque du Soleil's Varekai. The 2017 European Short-Course Swimming Championships also took place at the arena.

2021 will mark the 50th edition of the world championships for artistic gymnastics, which were first held in Antwerp in 1903. Copenhagen was the site of the 1967 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships as well as the 1979 European Gymnastics Championships for women, where Nadia Comăneci won her third straight all-around crown.

"It's a great achievement to be awarded the 50th Artistic Gymnastics World Championships," Danish Gymnastics Federation Anders Jacobsen said. "Not just for the Federation, but for Danish Gymnastics as a whole. An event of this format fits very well into the course and development we have for gymnastics in Denmark."

This year's world championships will take place in Doha, Qatar — the first time the event will be held in the Middle East. Worlds return to Europe in 2019, being held for the third time in Stuttgart, also the site of the 1989 and 2007 Worlds. Only Prague — site of the 1907, 1938 and 1962 Worlds — has played host as many times.

Written by Amanda Turner    Wednesday, 28 February 2018 20:47    PDF Print
USAG Seats Interim Board as Blackmun Resigns from USOC
(9 votes, average 3.44 out of 5)

An interim board of directors has been seated at USA Gymnastics — meeting today's deadline set last month by the United States Olympic Committee — but not without controversy as allegations have arisen that the troubled governing body did not follow protocol in seating one of its new directors.

Karen Golz, a retired executive from Ernst & Young, is the new interim chairwoman of the board, which was seated by telephone conference on Monday. Golz is one six independent new board members whose experience is expected to be vital in rescuing the beleaguered organization, which has been accused of fostering a culture in which physical, psychological and sexual abuse of athletes was ignored.

Golz spent 40 years at corporate giant Ernst & Young and recently retired as its global vice chair. The five independent directors joining Golz on the board are attorney Lois Elizabeth Bingham, pediatrician Dr. James Crawford-Jakubiak; sports executive Deborah Slaner Larkin of the Women's Sports Foundation; public relations consultant David Rudd and professor of social work Julie Springwater.

The sport and Olympic movement remain embroiled in controversy as fallout from the Larry Nassar tragedy has continued. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun resigned Wednesday afternoon amid massive pressure over the USOC's response to sex abuse in gymnastics and other sports, which is now the subject of at least three Congressional investigations. More than 250 women and girls have come forward since September 2016 to report that Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor and Michigan State University physician, sexually assaulted them under the guise of medical treatment. Civil lawsuits have alleged that Michigan State University was aware of the allegations against Nassar as early as 1997 and that USA Gymnastics was aware as early as 1998; both organizations have denied this in their respective motions to dismiss. Nassar was sentenced to 300 years in prison after pleading guilty in three cases involving sexual assault and child pornography.

On January 25, following the shocking victim impact statements from survivors of Nassar's sex abuse delivered at his first sentencing hearing, Blackmun issued a six-point set of directives in a letter to USA Gymnastics, which it must meet or face decertification as the governing body for the sport of the gymnastics in the United States. The entire USA Gymnastics board of directors was forced to resign within a week and an interim board seated within a month. A permanent replacement board must be seated within 12 months of the letter.

The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors is responsible for all business and affairs of USA Gymnastics through overseeing the management of USAG and its affairs. Pursuant to current bylaws, 21 individuals comprise the board: seven membership directors for the sports disciplines (two each for women's artistic gymnastics, and men's artistic gymnastics, and one each for sports acrobatics, rhythmic gymnastics, and trampoline and tumbling); five athlete representatives (one for each discipline); five independent directors; and a chairperson of the board. The President and CEO of USA Gymnastics is chosen by and reports to the board of directors.

The new chair is expected to take a hardline approach in reviewing the performance of CEO Kerry Perry, Chief Operating Officer Ron Galimore and other key figures at USA Gymnastics, particularly in light of the unfolding controversy over one of the three seats on the interim board designated for representatives by USA Gymnastics' Advisory Council. The Advisory Council is a group of representatives from 20 national organizations that have an interest in gymnastics, including the Amateur Athletic Union, the National High School Gymnastics Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, YMCA, and the Special Olympics.

Like the membership directors (elected by professional members) and the athlete representatives (elected by athletes), the Advisory Council elects its own three members itself, according to USAG Bylaws, section 4.2(d):

Advisory Council Directors (three [3] Directors). The Board shall include three (3) Advisory Council Directors elected by the affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the Advisory Council pursuant to procedures established by the Advisory Council.

On February 11, Bobbie Cesarek (National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches - Women), Evelyn Chandler (National Association of Women's Gymnastics Judges) and Kevin White (U.S. Elite Coaches Association - Men) were elected by the Advisory Council to serve as its three directors on the interim board. According to numerous interviews, as well as email correspondence reviewed by IG, USA Gymnastics has been accused of ignoring the results of the Advisory Council's vote and replacing White with Cindy Bickman (Special Olympics) when it posted a board update on its website on February 14.

White, a coach and gym club owner from Mississippi, is also the Region 8 Men's Chairman and in the past has served as floor manager at U.S. championships, the most recent in 2012. On February 16, he informed the other Advisory Council members by email that he never resigned.

There is no mechanism for USA Gymnastics to reject a duly elected director. A director can only voluntarily resign from the position by submitting written notice to the chair (Bylaw 4.3). If a director does not meet the requirements for the position, or fails to meet the participation requirements established by the board, the director can be removed by a vote of two-thirds from the board (Bylaw 4.4). Directors may also be removed by court order, according to the laws of Indiana, where USA Gymnastics is a registered non-profit corporation.

Tom James, an attorney retained by USA Gymnastics in relation to the new board, told IG on Sunday that White voluntarily resigned when asked.

"Contrary to reports circulating on social media and elsewhere, USA Gymnastics did not remove Kevin White," James said. "Rather, given Mr. White's recent and visible service as a paid member of USA Gymnastics' events staff, USA Gymnastics requested that the Advisory Council reconsider his appointment, with an indication that the request was in no way a reflection on Mr. White. The Advisory Council did so, advising USA Gymnastics that Mr. White had graciously stepped aside as one of its Board appointees. It was thought that this resolved the matter, with Mr. White's understanding and cooperation. Subsequent characterizations of this matter that have been disseminated are unfortunately inaccurate."

Neither James nor USA Gymnastics Vice President of Communication Leslie King responded to IG's request to provide evidence of White's resignation from his duly elected position, nor the name of the person on the Advisory Council who advised USA Gymnastics that he had resigned. Likewise, neither responded to inquiries to explain what bearing any "recent and visible service as a paid member of USA Gymnastics' events staff" has on the election of a board director or where in USA Gymnastics bylaws or U.S. Olympic Committee's directives specifically prohibits someone with that background from serving on the board.

Pursuant to USAG's Bylaw 2.4(b), a person is ineligible to serve as a director if he or she is not yet 18 years of age; has been convicted of a felony; was suspended for one year or more for a doping offense; committed a Safe Sport violation resulted in suspension, termination or revocation of USAG membership; failed to successfully complete the mandatory criminal background check; or is on USA Gymnastics' list of permanently ineligible members. Directors must also be legally allowed to work in the U.S. without sponsorship, as either a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The five independent directors are the only board members who must meet criteria the "standard of independence" from USA Gymnastics, as outlined in Bylaw 4.2(c); the preceding two years is specified as the recent timespan that independent directors may not be affiliated with USA Gymnastics.

The USOC's directives from January did not outline any exclusionary criteria besides the members of the board forced to resign in January not being eligible to serve on the interim board or replacement board, with the exception of the recently elected athlete representatives, who had been seated in January 2018 and were eligible for re-election.

It remains unclear why White's position as a floor manager would be considered particularly visible. Gymnastics competition floor managers oversee all floor personnel such as volunteers and score runners, the music coordinator and the announcer. Typical duties of a floor manager are ensuring that volunteers perform their assigned tasks, that media and photographers remain in designated areas, and that the audience does not interfere with the competition (such as requesting autographs or using flash photography). USA Gymnastics' taking exception to White is all the more puzzling given that other directors on the interim board have had more high-profile and more recent association with USA Gymnastics events for which they apparently received compensation, such as serving as a competition judge or speaking at the USAG National Congress.

If USA Gymnastics removed White without his voluntary and written resignation, the organization would appear to be in violation of its own bylaws regarding selection of the board, as well as the USOC's letter, which instructed the federation, "An interim board must be seated, consistent with USAG's current bylaws." The current bylaws were passed in December.

Headquartered in Indianapolis, USA Gymnastics is a non-profit organization, known as a 501(3)c, registered in the State of Indiana. According to Indiana law, specifically Indiana Code Title 23 § 17 - 12:7-10, directors of non-profit organisations may only resign in writing to the entire board of directors, the presiding officer of the board of directors, or the president/secretary of the corporation. There does not appear to be any provision for removing duly elected directors from the board prior to the board being seated in either USA Gymnastics bylaws or Indiana law.

Interim USA Gymnastics Board of Directors
Karen GolzChairwoman of the board
Athlete directors
Ivana HongWomen's artistic gymnastics
Dylan MaurerAcrobatic gymnastics
Ava GehringerRhythmic gymnastics
Steven LegendreMen's artistic gymnastics
TBDTrampoline and tumbling
Membership directors
Kittia CarpenterWomen's artistic gymnastics
Randy JepsonMen's artistic gymnastics
Stefanie KorepinRhythmic gymnastics
Claudia KretschmerWomen's gymnastics
Scott LineberryTrampoline and tumbling
Bob MeierSports acrobatics
Justin SpringMen's artistic gymnastics
Advisory Council directors
Cindy BickmanSpecial Olympics
Bobbie CesarekNational Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches (Women)
Evelyn ChandlerNational Association of Women's Gymnastics Judges
Independent directors
Lois Elizabeth BinghamGeneral counsel for global automotive parts supplier Yazaki North America; board member for Just the Beginning Foundation; previously served on the American Bar Association's Commission on Women Bias Interrupters Working Group and on the board of National Tots and Teens, Inc.
James Crawford-Jakubiak Pediatrician and medical director for the Center for Child Protection; member of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children; member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and its section on Child Abuse and Neglect
Karen Golz(Chair) Recently retired as a global vice chair of Ernst & Young; 40 years with the company in positions that involved ethics and independence, risk management, compliance, financial reporting and controls, and general management
Deborah Slaner LarkinChief advocacy officer (2017) and CEO (2014-16) for the Women's Sports Foundation; past executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association's Foundation
David RuddFormer Chicago Tribune journalist who runs a communications and public relations firm in Chicago; board member for Prevent Child Abuse America; treasurer for the Black Public Relations Society
Julie SpringwaterAdjunct professor at Boston University's School of Social Work; chair of governance for the Child Welfare League of America

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.


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