Around the Gymternet: Gymnastics news is killing me a little, too

Frazier_Gym19121AZS1595Margzetta Frazier

In the News

Actions speak louder than words (TW: racism, emotional abuse). UCLA, one of the most vocal programs in the NCAA when it comes to standing up for racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and social justice, is sadly the topic of discussion for how the team leadership and athletic department failed to handle complaints related to instances of racism happening within the team.

According to Amanda Seales, an actor/comedian with ties to members of the program, freshman Alexis Jeffrey used racial slurs and didn’t stop when her teammates asked her to, and when they went to the coaches with the issue, nothing was done. The athlete wasn’t held accountable for her actions, and the coaching staff told her accusers to step down after Jeffrey reportedly threatened to harm herself if she was punished.

Seales, who spoke up for members of the team because they were told not to say anything, added that Jeffrey was allowed to leave the team voluntarily, entering the transfer portal and getting a spot at LSU. In the wake of these allegations becoming public, we’ve seen tweets to director of athletics Martin Jarmond from UCLA seniors Margzetta Frazier and Norah Flatley, and head coach Chris Waller spoke at a press conference today, calling the team’s 194.850 debut score their “rock bottom,” though he neglected to comment about any of the allegations facing the program.

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The Barry Hyder investigation (TW: sexual abuse). In a must-read piece from Texas Monthly, we learn about the women who came forward about the behavior of Capital Gymnastics coach Barry Hyder. Despite these women contacting SafeSport and law enforcement 18 months ago, the investigation is still ongoing, leaving the survivors – including Hyder’s ex-wife and former LSU gymnast Amy Duval, who he groomed and later assaulted as a young teenager and then married when she was 19 – in limbo as they wait for justice and closure.

The piece highlights the problems with SafeSport, which is known for taking so long to handle investigations that athletes ultimately give up and move on before they can reach a resolution, allowing coaches and others accused of abusive behavior to remain in the sport with no restrictions or consequences. Hyder is currently suspended, but there’s no known end in sight for those who want to see him held accountable.

Deals, deals, deals. This week hasn’t been all terrible, as several outlets reporting on financials and deals show that WAG athletes are killing it at every level. According to Forbes, Simone Biles was fourth on the list of highest-paid women in sports last year, earning an estimated total of $10M. Olympic floor champion Jade Carey, who made her NCAA debut for Oregon State last week, was noted in Oregon Live for nabbing the biggest contract among all collegiate athletes in Oregon with a deal valued at $200,000. Finally, Front Office Sports shared the news that Instagram has begun testing subscription services with two NIL athletes, including 2020 Olympic silver medalist and UCLA freshman Jordan Chiles, who can now earn monthly income through exclusive subscriber-only content.

Kohei’s back! After announcing his retirement just last week, Uchimura Kohei told the press that he’ll be back for one more performance to officially conclude his career. The 33-year-old two-time Olympic all-around champion will give demonstrations on all six apparatuses at a special retirement event on March 12 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, which will also feature some of his teammates. “I wanted to finish on all six events as I’ve always been an all-arounder,” said Uchimura, who officially ended his competitive career in the high bar final at world championships in 2021. “I just wouldn’t feel like myself if I only did the high bar at the end.”

Meet Updates

Vegas Cup Qualifier. The first of six U.S. elite qualifiers for 2022 takes place this weekend at the Vegas Cup, hosted by Gymcats in Las Vegas, Nevada. Elite optionals will be held the morning of Friday, January 21, with compulsories to follow on Saturday morning. 28 gyms have registered athletes for optionals, including Twin City Twisters, First State, WOGA, Everest, CGA, and the hosts, to name a few top programs. There’s no way to watch, but live results should be available via Meet Scores Online.

NCAA Corner

The rankings. Despite first outings for a number of teams in week two, no new programs entered into the top eight, though there was some shuffling among the top teams. Kentucky came closest, jumping into ninth with a 196.525 debut, while Alabama climbed up one spot to rank 10th, looking like a completely different program compared to the work they did in week one.

1. Michigan 197.850 (no change)
2. Utah 197.438 (+2)
3. Florida 197.338 (-1)
4. Oklahoma 197.025 (-1)
5. LSU 196.950 (+1)
6. Denver 196.800 (-1)
7. Auburn 196.650 (+1)
8. Missouri 196.600 (-1)
9. Kentucky 196.525 (debut)
10. Alabama 196.400 (+1)

Florida made history. The Florida-Alabama dual meet made history as the first NCAA regular-season gymnastics meet to be broadcast live on a major network. Though Florida is typically part of the SEC Network’s “Friday Night Heights” lineup, Gators coach Jenny Rowland didn’t hesitate to shift the meet – which was also this year’s Equality Night – from the usual Friday night slot to Sunday afternoon, with ABC airing the action featuring Bart Conner and Kathy Johnson-Clarke in the commentary box.

The meet was a close one, with Alabama leading going into the final rotation, but back-to-back 10s from Nya Reed and Trinity Thomas gave Florida the edge less than a tenth ahead of their SEC rivals. The 10 was a first for Reed, a senior who manifested the outcome a day earlier.

Gymnasts of the moment. Olympic floor champion Jade Carey showcased her brilliance with a perfect double double on floor in her debut floor routine for Oregon State. Maggie O’Hara of Arkansas was absolutely flawless in this bars set that earned a 9.95. Kyla Bryant helped Stanford to the team’s best season opener since 2011 with an incredible beam routine capped off with a stuck double tuck. And last but not least, Minnesota’s Mya Hooten made a statement with her expressive and solid floor work that sealed Minnesota’s win on Monday.

Addy De Jesus retires. Sadly, senior Addy De Jesus announced her medical retirement from gymnastics yesterday after competing just once this season, earning a 9.75 on bars at the home opener against her former team, Nebraska. After spending two years with the Huskers, De Jesus transferred to Iowa State last season and immediately made a huge impact. She became the fourth gymnast in ISU history to earn a perfect 10 with her vault at Denver early in the 2021 season, won the Big 12 conference title on floor, and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

It’s gonna be a wild year for the guys. Oklahoma and Stanford made their first appearances of the season in at the Rocky Mountain Open on Saturday, and it was awesomely dramatic, with the Sooners defeating the reigning national champions by just two tenths, a nearly impossible feat in men’s NCAA competition.

OU freshman Fuzzy Benas made a massive statement with an 83.8 in the all-around, getting the win there and on rings while also going 14+ on floor, vault, and p-bars. For Stanford, Khoi Young was a standout on pommels, while Curran Phillips won the vault title with a 14.7, Blake Sun won p-bars with a 14.8, and J.R. Chou won high bar with a 13.9.

The meet also showcased two of the most artistic MAG floor workers in the sport. Nebraska’s Sam Phillips won the event title with fantastic tumbling and brilliant style, changing the game with transitions that showed off his grace, something that is typically straight-up ignored on the men’s side. Jackson Harrison of Arizona State, who finished 14th on the event, also put on a magnificent showing with their flexibility and dance skill highlighted throughout their set.

Staying Social

Riley McCusker’s lost skill. In a TikTok post showing a skill Riley McCusker wished she had more time to work on, the world champion and Florida freshman showed off a stalder entry into a layout Tkachev. She misses the skill in the video she shares, but it got me thinking about everything this badass woman could have accomplished had she not been injured for the majority of her elite career.

William Emard’s new opening FX pass? The rising Canadian MAG star William Emard shared a training video where he’s connecting a back 2½ to front layout to double front. He asks if he should make this the start to his routine…and I’m going for a big old YES.

Helen Hu’s acro. The always beautiful Helen Hu of Missouri proved yet again why dance-y, non-flight acro should be recognized and rewarded on beam. In a code where fast-paced connections and difficult flight elements are the only way to build your start value, the beauty and magic of the sport are sorely missing. Thank god for gymnasts on social media sharing what we’re missing out on.

David Belyavskiy’s death wish. Russia’s gonna Russia, which is why I wasn’t at all surprised to see Olympic champion David Belyavskiy going through some pommels work while his teammates toss pit foam at him. It’s actually a great way to learn how to focus through even the wildest situations, until someone lobs a giant block directly at his head. Really, just a normal day in the gym for this team.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

15 thoughts on “Around the Gymternet: Gymnastics news is killing me a little, too

  1. I take these racism allegations with a grain of salt. Look at the fake accusations Gabby Douglas made against Excalibur Gymnastics.
    Amanda Seales is very problematic anyway.

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    • It’s great to know that we get to have an opinion on other people’s experiences because someone decided they had an opinion about Gabby’s experience…

      Matter of fact, I’ve decided this whole #metoo ‘thing’ is just a bunch of women being dramatic…

      Smh

      Liked by 1 person

    • What is it about Gabby Douglas that makes people think it’s ok to ignore all the blatant racist abuse she’s received? She spoke up when discussions around racism and microaggressions weren’t as widespread, everyone is expected to forgive the teammate who compared her to a monkey because that teammate (who has never apologised beyond an “I’m sorry if people were offended” non-apology) has a YouTube channel and an Olympic medal, and she’s still being dragged through the mud by the team coordinator 5 years after she earned her spot on an Olympic team, and any YouTube video of her has at least one racist comment from a Komova fan. Racism against Gabby is really hard to miss.

      I agree that until we receive concrete confirmations of what’s gone on from the athletes, we should reserve passing too much judgement, but it’s possible to say this without being awful about Gabby Douglas.

      Anyway, UCLA’s athletes who are speaking up are a credit to their program and I hope they’re able to see some justice done, and I hope we’re able to get the full story soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know anything about her history but was glad the team had someone with a following they could go to since they couldn’t speak out themselves? I think her getting their story out and making what the administration did public gave the athletes the ability to start being more vocal on social media, which is I think what matters here regardless of Seales’ potentially problematic past.

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  2. There is so much heresy and speculation on the UCLA/Jeffrey issue, but Amanda Seales using her (unrelated) platform to leak one side of a story that she heard from a select couple of athletes just doesn’t sit right. I also heard that this happened in the context of Jeffrey joining in on racist lyrics of a song that came on during practice, which would be ignorant, yeah, but sounds less bizarre than the idea that she started randomly spouting racial slurs at her teammates. I also read that bullying of Jeffrey ensued, which led to her asking to transfer. I’m NOT saying these accounts are true, just that there are obviously multiple stories floating around out there. We don’t know the truth and may never know, so we need to be careful about jumping on a student athlete.

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    • I think most of the “jumping on” isn’t related to the athlete, but how the team leadership and athletic department handled the complaints. This is the kind of thing that could have and should have been handled super easily – “hey, can you not sing those lyrics?” “Omg, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize it was a problem.” Or, if she continued singing lyrics… “hey coaches, we asked her to stop and she won’t and it’s offensive.” “Sorry, this shouldn’t happen and her behavior is not right, we’ll handle it and make sure that she is reprimanded and that it doesn’t happen again.” Yet it evolved into a “scandal” with no follow-up from the athletic department, resulting in an athlete quitting the team while the other athletes have to send coded messages to people with large followings because they know the only way they’ll be heard is by involving people outside of the program? So ridiculous and unnecessary, and it wouldn’t have gone this far if the people in charge had just handled it that day.

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