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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.

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
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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.


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