As trampoline and tumbling athletes prepare for the biggest meet of their season,athletes from the United States woke up to an unexpected message:
“Today the United States Olympic Committee has filed a complaint initiating a Section 8 proceeding against USA Gymnastics, seeking to revoke USAG’s recognition as a member National Governing Body of the USOC.”
That message from the U.S. Olympic Committee came in the wee hours for the athletes readying for the World Championships this week in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Alex Renkert, a five-time World medallist in tumbling and double-mini trampoline for the U.S., found out about the announcement during breakfast Tuesday.
“My first thoughts were filled with frustration,” he said in an email to the Olympic Channel. “It’s our final day of training before Worlds and the last thing us athletes needed was additional stress that could affect our mental state prior to competition.”
Though there is no perfect timing for an announcement that affects the more than 150,000 gymnasts and 3,000-plus gymnastics member clubs in the United States, the message coming two days before competition at the World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships has sent shock waves through Team USA.
“It’s great to take steps in order to promote the well-being and safety of athletes, but it would have been nice had you considered the Trampoline & Tumbling athletes who begin competing at the World Championships tmrw. I can’t help but to be distracted from this,” Renkert said early Tuesday morning on Twitter.
“Let’s all remember that our US T&T team is getting ready to compete at their World Championships,” Aimee Boorman, who coached Simone Biles at Rio 2016, wrote on Twitter. “To all those coaches and athletes, Best of Luck and know that your gymnastics family at home is rooting for you! Go USA.”
It’s the latest in more than two years of turmoil for USA Gymnastics as the fallout from the Larry Nassar scandal unfolds.
The chaos surrounding the organisation has showed little signs of slowing. In early September, newly-named U.S.O.C. chief executive officer Sarah Hirshland called for a change in leadership after the gymnastics body bungled a hiring for its developmental coordinator position. Days later, Kerry Perry, who took over as president and CEO of USA Gymnastics on Dec. 1, 2017, resigned.
Then, shortly after USA Gymnastics named their women’s World Championships team that included four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles, they announced former U.S. Congresswoman Mary Bono as interim president and CEO.
Within hours, concerns about Bono’s ties to a law firm connected to USA Gymnastics in the early days of the Nassar scandal surfaced along with a weeks old tweet criticising an ad campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Biles took to Twitter, taking Bono to task. Four days later, Bono resigned.
“I know that it is going to have a very big impact on the decisions that have to come forth, so I have to be wise,” Biles told the Olympic Channel during the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha, where she won six medals including four golds. “But she also made that decision to put that out there, so she has to be ready for whatever feedback she got.”
Team USA promises strong showing
The U.S.O.C.’s decision coincides with the end of competition in Doha.
“The timing of the statement came after the conclusion of Artistic Worlds. We assume the USOC made that decision so the artistic athletes would not be preoccupied with questions of the future of our sport,” Renkert wrote.
“Instead, we will carry that burden throughout our competition.”
Along with the statement announcing the USOC’s move towards decertifying USA Gymnastics as the national governing body for the sport in the USA, Hirshland wrote a letter to the U.S. gymnastics community.
In it, she said to “all USAG gymnasts and the gymnastics community in the United States,” which includes the trampoline and tumbling athletes currently in Russia, “You deserve better.”
“It has prompted a lot of confusion among the athletes,” said Renkert. “We have been informed by USAG it will not have an impact during our Championships."
"Although, we don’t fully understand what this means for our sport.”
But despite all the goings-on out of their control, Renkert says Team USA remains determined.
“Regardless of the poor timing of this announcement, we are motivated to have a good showing,” he said. “Our sport is uniquely thrilling, our athletes are incredible, and we want the USOC to know this, too.”