Mary Lee Tracy
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I have a bunch of questions about MLT. What are MLT’s qualifications for coaching gymnastics? I know she was a cheerleader after high school for the Cincinnati Bengals and I read somewhere that she did high school gymnastics, but I don’t know what level she achieved. Also, her gym supposedly opened in 1988 and Amanda Borden started gymnastics in 1984, but MLT was her only coach. Did she coach elsewhere before opening her own gym?
It seems like her coaching also changed after 1996 because Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps didn’t seem to have many injuries. They had a few, but in line with most of the American girls of the quad, whereas MLT’s athletes from 1998-2000 were rarely healthy. Do you think it was the change from not having compulsories any more and not spending any training time on easier routines with less impact? Like maybe she didn’t know enough about how to restructure her training appropriately other than double time for the optionals? Or do you think the success in Atlanta got to her and she was determined to repeat it, no matter what it took?
To answer your first question, you don’t need to be a high-level gymnast with amazing results to become a high-level gymnastics coach. Valorie Kondos-Field was never a gymnast, and while the gymnast-to-coach transition is a common one, it’s not at all required. I have a friend who took a rec job as a struggling actor, and she had zero previous experience with the sport, but learned as she went along, and she’s now an optional-level J.O. coach who gets great results for her gymnasts. I don’t know what level MLT competed at, and since the levels would have been wildly different for MLT when she competed in the 70s, I’d probably need to see a video of her doing gymnastics to compare her to a similar level today, though I don’t think she ever reached even close to the elite level as a gymnast herself.
MLT claims to have over 40 years of coaching experience, so she probably started coaching in the late 70s when she was in her early 20s, though I can’t seem to find the names of any gyms where she coached prior to opening her own gym. I would guess she probably had at least a decade of experience before opening CGA, though, and it’s likely Amanda Borden went with her from the old gym to the new gym. You actually see that happen every once in a while, when a coach gets to be really well-known for what they’re doing on the elite scene, so they branch off and create their own program so they can run the show rather than getting a (usually not great) salary to do the dirty work for someone else. Edit: Apparently MLT coached at the facility before it was CGA, and then when she had the opportunity to purchase the gym she coached at, she turned it into what we now know as CGA.
I think post-1996, when the code changed to require more difficulty, a lot of gymnasts began struggling with these new requirements, because it was completely different from the level they were expected to compete at a younger age. A lot of gymnasts who were juniors doing well under the 1996 code then suddenly had to revamp routines for the new, more difficult code, and that led to a lot of injuries in general, so I think that’s something that goes beyond MLT. It’s also something that continued and got even worse as the code got even more difficult, especially post-2006, but this is true for most coaches in the U.S. beyond just MLT. I think there are problems inherent with MLT’s style of coaching and the culture at her gym that create more opportunities for injury, but again, that’s pretty much a USA Gymnastics culture in general, with the whole “win at all costs” model lasting up until people only very recently started calling it out (and I’m sure it’s still a prominent outlook in many gyms today, at all levels). So I don’t think MLT was so inspired by her own success in 1996 that she randomly became abusive…I think she’s always had a “win at all costs” mindset, but it just became harder for athletes to train higher levels of difficulty under that mindset, because the nature of the sport changed in a way that made the “cost” much greater than it was previously. And that’s not to say things were easy in 1996 or earlier…but the added difficulty on top of an already terrible culture made it so that basically no athlete could deal with it and stay safe/uninjured, which is partly why that whole quad was such a mess.
What will the new training center in Montreal change for the Canadian national team? Will they train there all the time? Only for camps? Will the Olympic trials be held there? Do you think there will be trainings or competitions open to the public?
I believe it’s only for camps and things that would require the team to be all together at one time (like preparing for world championships or another major international competition). I don’t know how often Canada runs camps, but when the gymnasts aren’t at national team activities, they’ll continue to train at their club gyms. I would assume they’ll hold Olympic Trials there, though their trials tend to be a closed competition. I think in 2016 they streamed some of it, or shared videos, from what I remember, and they also made results accessible. I even got an invite to attend so they could have someone covering it, but I wasn’t able to go…but I don’t think it was open to the public, as it was in a gym and not a competition hall. I’d imagine anything held at the training center also won’t be open to the public, but we’ll still probably get some coverage if they hold trials there.
How do U.S. gymnasts pass through the levels? What do they have to do if they want to go from level 9 to level 10, and from level 10 to elite?
First of all, J.O. just got renamed to ACE, and I’m NEVER going to remember that, hahaha, so excuse me if I continue saying J.O. There are standards that have to be met to move through each of the levels (certain scores, as well certain skills or composition requirements). Also, to compete as a level 9, you must be at least eight years old and you need to have reached a score of 34.00 as a level 8, and then to move from level 9 to level 10, you must be at least nine years old and you need to have reached a score of 34.00 as a level 9.
Any gymnast who reaches level 10 can choose to go elite, but only a very tiny percentage will actually get the scores needed to qualify elite. Actually, some gymnasts will even go right from level 9 into elite instead of ever giving level 10 a shot, which happens rarely now, but is a thing. Gymnasts might start training elite-level skills and routines at age nine or ten, but opt to continue competing in the levels system for a few more years because it can take some time to become comfortable with competing at the elite level, and the ACE program (ahhhh) requirements for routines are like 25% what the elite routine requirements are. It’s a hard transition.
Now that Hopes is a more popular program for gymnasts under age 14, we’re seeing more and more gymnasts stick with Hopes as long as possible, which is great, because just a decade ago we were seeing coaches forcing their gymnasts to qualify elite at age 10 or 11. Even a few years ago, there were two 11-year-olds at nationals which is SO much pressure, but I think most coaches prefer to give their kids more time to adjust to the transition using Hopes, which uses a modified FIG code, and has much lower qualification scores (48.500 for gymnasts aged 12-13, and 46.000 for gymnasts aged 10-11, compared to the junior scores of a 50.500 for classics, and a 51.000 for nationals). Hopes gymnasts have four years to work their way up to junior elite-level routines at age 14 instead of pushing for difficulty that can really hurt them, and I think that’s a really positive change that we’ve seen over the last few years in the sport.
That’s basically the gist. Also worthy to note is that when a gymnast is attempting to qualify elite, or when she’s competing at the Hopes level, she can continue competing level 10, but once she qualifies to the elite level, she has to file a petition to drop back down to level 10.
Can you list all of the apparatuses that have caused fatal injuries in women’s and men’s gymnastics?
For the women, I think every apparatus but beam? For the most known examples, vault led to Julissa Gomez’s death, as well as Sang Lan becoming paralyzed, training a Thomas salto on floor ultimately led to Elena Mukhina’s death, and training bars dismounts has led to spinal cord injuries for several U.S. and Canadian gymnasts in recent years, including one that led to the death of SCSU gymnast Melanie Coleman in 2019. I can’t think of any men who have died while training or competing, but I remember seeing a guy, maybe back in the 2012 quad, land pretty terribly on a Thomas salto at worlds…and I’d imagine vault and floor are where the most devastating injuries happen for them as well, with maybe high bar also pretty dangerous, as it can be difficult to find your air awareness and fall correctly if you have a mishap in the middle of a tough skill…I remember Epke Zonderland getting knocked out on a fall in 2016, and can only imagine the kind of near-misses that happen in training.
What would the lineup have been in 2011 if Alicia Sacramone hadn’t injured her Achilles?
I was expecting something like the following, with the gymnasts in parentheses competing in qualifications but not the team final:
VT: (Douglas, Raisman), Wieber, Sacramone, Maroney
UB: (Maroney, Raisman), Vega, Douglas, Wieber
BB: (Douglas, Vega), Raisman, Wieber, Sacramone
FX: (Douglas, Maroney), Sacramone, Wieber, Raisman
From what I remember, they ended up putting Gabby at the tail end of some, if not all, lineups to boost her confidence/scores, but what I put above was more like what I was expecting without knowing that was going to happen. I also remember some people including Anna over Gabby because she had better bars final potential at that point, but I had heard that Gabby had a really good camp and was likely to get it over Anna, but if Anna had gone in, I would’ve had the following:
VT: (Vega, Raisman), Wieber, Sacramone, Maroney
UB: (Maroney, Raisman), Vega, Li, Wieber
BB: (Maroney, Vega), Raisman, Wieber, Sacramone
FX: (Vega, Maroney), Sacramone, Wieber, Raisman
I really wasn’t sold on McKayla as anything but a vaulter at this stage, but in hindsight I’m glad she got to compete floor in the team final, because she really proved herself and inspired confidence as someone who could do more than one event at the Olympics.
When I was a young gym nerd in the 90s, Mary Lee Tracy and Kelli Hill had the reputations of being the kinder, gentler elite coaches. Since then, comments by their former athletes paint them in a whole new light. Were they always just as bad as everyone else, but marketed themselves better? Or was the bar just so much lower back then that they seemed good in comparison?
I think the bar was just so much lower back then, and it’s why some gymnasts – like Dominique Dawes – are only just now seeing what they went through as more abusive and totally wrong, and not at all necessary. Of course, when you compare someone like Kelli to someone like Bela Karolyi, she’s basically an angel. I was watching some mid-90s competitions recently and it always looked like Kelli was so there for her gymnasts, it’s no wonder she had such a good reputation, especially as Bela came off as a narcissistic monster. But I think Kelli was also really intense in a way that it crossed the line from “strict coaching” into the emotionally abusive territory, and this is something that unfortunately hasn’t really been seen as abusive until very recently. That’s also part of it, I think. What was seen as acceptable even a few years ago is now being regarded as something gymnasts will no longer tolerate, so things that MLT and Kelli were doing in their gyms were just seen as like, shrug, it’s tough, but that’s what you need to make it…and now we’re like, actually, no, coaches can take their kids to pretty high levels without emotionally abusing them, so stop the BS justification of why abuse is good for athletes.
If I’m not wrong, Deanne Soza and Morgan Hurd were both the first elites out of their gyms. Why do you think their career trajectories turned out so differently? Deanne was ahead of Morgan skill-wise when they both started out, and yet…
I think their coaching experiences play into their career trajectories. I think Deanne has some of the best foundational skills the U.S. has ever seen, and she’s a beautiful gymnast, but I think she was doing too much too soon, and that the amount of pressure this put on her really caused her to regress mentally in the sport, so while she had absolutely gorgeous gymnastics, she could never get through a routine and would instead just fall apart. It was really sad to watch, especially at the last competition she did with Arete, which is what prompted her move to Texas Dreams. The recent Texas Dreams allegations are especially sad to me because when I talked to Deanne at nationals in 2018, she and Kim Zmeskal-Burdette were basically jumping for joy about her simply being able to hit her routines, so when I went over to talk to Deanne, she gushed about how much happier she was and how Kim changed her life. They were both basically crying tears of joy, and it was honestly the happiest I’ve ever seen Deanne in competition, so now knowing what Texas Dreams is like, you can only imagine how comparably terrible things were at Arete.
Morgan, meanwhile, started off a bit slower in the sport, but never looked like she was under tremendous pressure, was always competing age-appropriate skills, and when she made mistakes, she’d get disappointed with herself, but her coaches always seemed understanding, so that she could come back and compete the next apparatus with a new frame of mind. It’s amazing how that kind of positive coaching (based on what Morgan has said about her coaches) can really be the difference between someone who succeeds and someone who struggles, and I die thinking about how far Deanne could have gone in this sport if she had coaches who cared more about her as a person than as “just” a competitor…and I feel this way about a million kids who were in similar circumstances where they just did too much too soon and were mentally done with the sport by 16.
Do you think Simone is capable of a laid out triple double? What would it be worth in the COP?
I think Simone is capable of literally anything. Honestly, a laid out triple double should be worth an L or an M, but the FIG would probably only give it a K because I don’t think they’d skip over K if Simone’s tucked triple double at a J is still the highest-rated element if she ever competed the layout version.
If a sheep jump is performed inadequately, what is it typically downgraded to?
It would depend on the severity of the error…if there was no arch or head release, or if it had an open ring (no hip extension or bent legs), it wouldn’t get any element value at all, and would also get a tenth off for each fault. If the judges consider the ring only SLIGHTLY open, however, they’d downgrade to a C and take necessary deductions. Usually an open ring where justifying no DV is when a gymnast looks like she’s making a letter C in the air, whereas a “slightly open” ring is almost closed, but with the feet just either not touching the head, or not passing head level.
What happened to Dare Maxwell of Stanford in terms of her departure from the team?
I never learned what happened exactly, just that she chose to retire early, but she seemed to remain on good terms with the program and she stayed at Stanford until graduating last year.
At Pac Rims in 2012, I noticed Gabby Douglas was given a 6.5 D score on vault even though she only got two twists around. Was that a mistake or did they credit her with the Amanar?
I think they credited her with the Amanar because that’s what she was going for and that’s the number she put up prior to vaulting so they probably just marked it down and assumed…but she was literally short on TWO twists, so this wasn’t even a question of like, well, she ALMOST got the 2½, so we’ll just give it to her and deduct. It should have been credited as a double. Just lazy judging, honestly, but it happens, especially at a meet like Pac Rims (ahem, Jordyn Wieber getting a 9.3 beam E score at the same competition).
I’ve seen people refer to “dodgy” (or words to that effect) British team selections. What are some examples of this occurring? Should we look at this more critically now with all of the allegations about British Gymnastics?
I remember being confused by a few team selections over the years, with the most egregious of recent memory being Charlie Fellows basically being told in 2018 that they were not going to consider her for the Commonwealth Games team even though she won bronze all-around at nationals. Charlie was planning on retiring that year but assumed her finish at nationals would put her in contention for the Games and said she wanted to stick around to earn a spot, but they were basically like, sorry, you’re retiring, we don’t want you. I remember she was pissed, as were a lot of people, and there were lots of instances like this where gymnasts were essentially forced out of the sport. I think this kind of behavior absolutely fits in the context of the allegations against British Gymnastics, because while telling someone she isn’t going to be considered for a team isn’t abuse in itself, that kind of sabotage and these “forced” retirements are part of the mind games that seem to have gone on within the federation, and that IS a form of abuse.
Assuming gymnastics is back on track next year, do you think the American Cup will still happen given that it won’t be eligible to be a qualifying meet for the Olympics? Do you think we’ll see a hybrid approach to it, or the FIG allowing more than just 1 gymnast per country and 2 from US since it won’t be a qualifying meet similar to 2008 when 4 or 5 competed?
I’ve heard that the American Cup will not happen next year, and there was also talk that the American Cup will never happen again, because it’s an expensive meet to produce and I don’t think USA Gymnastics can really take on that kind of financial commitment anymore. However, at the end of July, USAG released a tentative calendar for 2021, and there is a hold for the American Cup on February 27, only it seems to be combined with a WAG version of the winter cup with a note that it will be used as the Gymnix team selection, so I’d guess they’re making some changes to it and maybe making it have more of a U.S. focus instead of it being an FIG world cup. Without the world cup rules attached, they could literally do with it whatever they want, so maybe they’ll have an international invitational without any rules about who they have to invite, and then a U.S.-only competition as well? It’s cool that they’re rethinking the format rather than scrapping it completely.
Why is Jade Carey continuing to train all 4 events when she’s guaranteed and Olympic spot and only medal-worthy on vault and floor?
Jade wants to compete all four events at the Olympics in the hopes of making the all-around final. Obviously it’s going to be difficult for her to be a top-two all-arounder in the U.S., but I mean, the competition is pretty tight between the non-Simone Biles all-arounders, and Jade was third on the first day of nationals last year less than a point behind Sunisa Lee, so anything can happen, especially under Olympic pressure. Even if all four all-arounders who make the legit team are stronger or more complete/balanced all-arounders than she is, if they all freak out and have falls, Jade has the scores to get in over them, so why not try? It’s the Olympics, of course she’s going to do whatever she can to maximize her experience there, and if she can get a surprise all-around final spot on top of potential vault and floor medals, then it would be silly NOT to try.
Also what’s the deal with Laurent Landi being accused of abuse? I heard about it, but I don’t know what’s happening.
I haven’t seen any direct accusation against Laurent, but I’ve heard stories, and I believe they came from gymnasts who trained under him at WOGA. I just searched Twitter again and can’t seem to find anything concrete, though, and if you google Laurent Landi abuse, the first thing that comes up is a tweet from a now-deleted account. If anyone has the original allegations, definitely send them my way.
Edit: Thanks to Twitter for providing a link to Grace McLaughlin talking about the abuse she experienced while part of Laurent Landi’s group at WOGA. She doesn’t name him outright, which is I guess why I could never find anything, but she posted this about two years ago in response to the Larry Nassar allegations, talking about how while she was never physically abused by Nassar, what she went through in the culture overall was just as traumatizing, especially as she was also going through a terrible experience with her club coach. Grace eventually switched to Valeri Liukin’s group at WOGA to escape the abuse, but when Valeri was out of the gym, she had to work with Laurent subbing in, including at Pan Am Games in 2011.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins