In the News
Vika’s a mama! A lot of newsy things happened this week, and almost all of it was a bummer, so let’s kick this thing off on the loveliest of notes – 2012 Olympic medalist Viktoria Komova, who retired in 2018 following a final attempt at a Tokyo comeback, shared on Instagram (using a super cute video from her announcement to her family) that she’d been keeping a secret – on January 16, Komova became a mother! Assuming it’s a girl based on the gender normative af pink blanket, I’m excited that this means she’ll turn 16 a year before the 2040 Olympic Games, mirroring her mother’s own timing going into London. The important stuff. Congrats to the happy family!
Ellie Downie retires. Now let’s take the mood down. Way down, with the news of Olympian and two-time world medalist Ellie Downie retiring at just 23 years old. In 2019, it looked like Downie was just getting started with the debut of her Cheng vault that helped her to her first individual worlds podium after previously helping the Brits take the team bronze in 2015, but after dealing with a global pandemic, the devastating death of her brother, injuries, and a lack of support from national team leadership throughout all of this after she came forward about abuse in 2020, Downie felt her mental health was shattered, and saw no other option outside of calling it quits.
Downie discussed her situation and decision on the Stompcast mental health podcast this week, which is absolutely worth a listen as she shines a light on not only the the abusive, fear-based culture of gymnastics in her country, but also on the repercussions she faced once she started speaking up publicly about this, including how head coach David Kenwright treated her when she attempted to make the worlds team in 2022, the final straw that made her realize she no longer had a place in British Gymnastics. A terrible ending to a wonderful career, but her legacy in helping make the sport better for all athletes is something no one can take from her.
The McLaren Report. Yesterday, McLaren Global Sport Solutions released its independent review of gymnastics in Canada, which was completed at the request of the governing body and doesn’t really get to the bottom of anything, which is disappointing to say the least. It glosses over real issues, and despite finding that GymCan’s “current policy framework has no glaring shortcomings,” it offers vague solutions to make experiences for athletes more positive, including “shift to positive behaviors” and “remember gymnastics should be fun!” which, like, wow the insight, groundbreaking.
The biggest takeaway for me was the absolute lack of inclusion of athletes in basically any decision-making, including when these decisions directly affect the athletes. The senior national team was left in the dark about so much going into world championships last year (making their bronze medal win all the more impressive, honestly), and while some members attempted to ask questions to get information about things like who their head coach would be, they were brushed off and ignored. Meanwhile, decisions about the head coach selection were happening above their heads, and when they found out that Christian Gallardo had been chosen and that there were SafeSport allegations against him in the U.S., their concerns were again ignored even as he traveled with the team to Liverpool despite not being employed by GymCan.
Both this and the logjam that is SafeSport reporting – as abuse allegations get stuck at lower levels of the system and are never actually addressed – are unacceptable at any level of the sport. The report also attacks Gymnasts for Change Canada, a survivor advocacy group, including singling out survivors who have attempted to call out systemic abuse, and it gives a voice to coaches who fear “being painted with the same brush as coaches who bring disrepute to the sport,” and who are prioritizing their reputations over the safety of athletes. In short, it’s a mess, and it’s hard to believe time and money went into it when it accomplishes literally nothing.
IOC ❤ Russia. The IOC is once again claiming its “solidarity” with Ukraine in a statement released yesterday, as the governing body for Olympic sports announced that they are hoping to reintegrate Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international sports competitions, once again bending over backward for Russia just as they do with doping regulations by allowing loopholes that could permit some athletes – GoOd AtHlEtEs WhO dOn’T sUpPoRt WaR! – to once again compete at events like world championships and the Olympic Games.
Here’s the thing about rules and sanctions – if you do not enforce them, they do not work. Allowing for loopholes is not enforcement, it does nothing to “punish” the offender, and it’s the reason why the offenders continue to reoffend, laughing at you the whole way because they’ve won. Either allow all athletes to compete or keep the all-inclusive ban, but this “Russians can compete if they pretend they’re not Russian” nonsense is laughable at best, and heinous at worst, especially as the news comes on the heels of the death of Ukrainian figure skater Dmytro Sharpar, 25, a Youth Olympic Games competitor who was killed in action while defending his country near Bakhmut.
Does the IOC really have “solidarity” with Ukraine if they’re going against the exact demands of its athletes, many of whom are fighting to protect democracy, and who do not want to compete alongside smug-faced Z-wearing assholes who serve as a constant reminder of all they’ve lost in the past year? Ukraine already said its NOC will consider boycotting Paris if Russian athletes are allowed to compete, so get your priorities straight, IOC.
Edit: Oleg Verniaiev has since shared his thoughts about why the neutral flag “punishment” is meaningless, and his words are so strong and important. The irony of him being banned for meldonium until post-2024 is also not lost on me!
A new home for Puflea. It seems the Amalia Puflea saga may finally be coming to an end, as the 15-year-old first-year senior seems to have found a home at CS Dinamo Bucuresti, where she’ll train under the Moldovans alongside Sabrina Voinea, Ioana Stanciulescu, and Antonia Duta. Puflea has been without a gym since early autumn, when she left Deva after suffering mental and emotional abuse that kept her unable to train. This led to her national team status and funding being rescinded, but hopefully now all will be well with the EYOF and Euros champion as she’ll work her way back to fighting form in time for the 2023 season.
Marinitch ousted. Again. Former U.S. men’s coach Vitaly Marinitch, who was forced to resign after sexually assaulting Alaina Legendre (once a T&T star for the U.S. who is married to MAG Olympian Steven Legendre) and was later hired to coach the French men’s team in September 2021, was just suspended by the French federation due to issues with abusing alcohol. The news comes following an incident in Spain, where an alcohol-fueled Marinitch used “inappropriate words, especially toward the physiotherapist,” according to FFG president James Blateau. A gymnast on the team said the situation was “sad” and that Marinitch was “clearly sick,” but Blateau said his behavior was “serious enough” for his time with the program to come to an end.
Elite Canada. The first large-scale elite meet of the season is crossed off the list, with Elite Canada wrapping up over the weekend as Aurélie Tran and Félix Dolci were crowned the senior champions of the event. Without streaming (aside from a fun IG live from Denelle Pedrick on Friday night!), we followed what we could, and shared recaps and results as the event happened. With most of the top athletes either skipping this one, as was the case with WAG, or competing only a handful of apparatuses on the MAG side, the podiums don’t really predict anything in terms of major teams this season, but for most athletes it was a great way to dust off some of the cobwebs, with one of the most exciting moments being the return of Clara Raposo, back after sitting out three years due to injuries to win the title on beam.
Grand Prix Series. The HGA Invitational, which was the second of four meets in the new Men’s Gymnastics Grand Prix series, took place over the weekend, giving us a glimpse into several top U.S. and international elite competitors, including 2020 Olympian Shane Wiskus, who won the all-around title with an 82.900 in addition to earning wins on floor, p-bars, and high bar, while Blake Sun won pommels and Alex Diab won rings and vault. The Grand Prix offers pretty sweet monetary prizes to the winners, with $70,000 total available over the entirety of the series. Wiskus was the top earner at this weekend’s meet, taking home a total of $5,250.
Vegas Cup. The first U.S. national elite qualifier of the season gets underway tomorrow, January 27, as elite and hopes optional gymnasts will compete to earn qualifying scores for the U.S., American, and Hopes Classic events to be held later this year. Gymnasts from Twin City Twisters, Pacific Reign, WOGA, First State, Metroplex, Midwest, GAGE, and others are set to compete across three sessions held beginning at 9:30 am local time in Las Vegas. There almost certainly will not be a stream, and I haven’t seen live scores available on Meet Scores Online yet, but that’ll probably be your best bet for following along.
Top 12. The men’s Top 12 series in France – which Yul Moldauer, who will compete for Boulazac, hilariously called “French Bundesliga” (I mean, he’s kind of not wrong!) – continues on Saturday, where La Madeleine will face Bourges, Orléans will face Boulazac, Franconville will face Vélizy, and Vallauris will face Oullins. The first three matches took place at the end of 2022, with the athletes competing on floor, rings, and p-bars, and the next three will now shift to pommels, vault, and high bar.
At the same time, the women will kick off their own Top 12 season on Saturday, with Saint-Etienne (featuring Lorette Charpy) against Saint-Lô, Hyères against Combs-la-Ville, Beaucaire against Henin-Beaumont, and Colomiers against Lyon. We’ll share scores and updates once available!
Up next. Another pair of U.S. elite qualifiers will take place in the first couple of weeks in February, including the Buckeye qualifier in Ohio from February 3–5 followed by the City of Lights qualifier in Orlando from February 10–12. We’ll see the first Serie A competition in Italy from February 10–11, and then Top 12 will continue with its next set of matches on February 11. Want to go even further into the future? Be sure to watch our 2023 calendar to catch every elite meet!
WGYM rankings. The top three are absolutely refusing to budge after a solid third week for all! Oklahoma took down Utah in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Florida played with its lineups a bit and gave up tenths on the road (but still came up with the win nearly a point ahead of Alabama), and Michigan suffered a shocking loss to No. 12 Michigan State thanks to a problematic beam rotation.
UCLA had its weakest meet of the season (but I mean, calm down, there have been three meets), pushing them down a couple of spots in the order, but saw a superstar performance from freshman Selena Harris, who earned a 39.725 in the all-around, where she’s now ranked third behind Trinity Thomas and Suni Lee. Finally, LSU climbed back into the top 10 after a strong home meet against Oklahoma early in the week, though despite Haleigh Bryant stunning with a Perfect 10 on vault and a 39.75 AA, it was a tough beam day for the Tigers when they hosted Missouri on Friday, keeping their average stuck below a 197.
1. Oklahoma 197.817 (no change)
2. Florida 197.633 (no change)
3. Michigan 197.500 (no change)
4. Utah 197.433 (+1)
5. Auburn 197.350 (+2)
6. UCLA 197.342 (-2)
7. California 197.133 (-1)
8. LSU 196.988 (+5)
9. Denver 196.950 (-1)
10. Kentucky 196.758 (-1)
MGYM rankings. The big news this week was Oklahoma finally entering the chat at the Rocky Mountain Open, where the men suffered an eight-point loss to Stanford, but nonetheless showed mostly great stuff, especially on floor, vault, and high bar, where the Sooners earned three 14+ scores. Nebraska showed some improvement here compared to week one, finishing third ahead of Big 10 rival Michigan, while Air Force was in a narrow fifth, though saw an awesome high bar win from Garrett Braunton with a 14.85.
On vault, Asher Hong competed the first Ri Se Gwang in NCAA history to earn a 15.0, but in this wild vault field where 12 guys scored a 14.5 or better, this ranked him only third, behind teammates Zach Martin (15.1) and Khoi Young (15.05). The all-around title went to last year’s junior Pan Ams champion Fred Richard with an 83.2, giving him the lead in the overall rankings ahead of Stanford’s Riley Loos and Taylor Burkhart.
1. Stanford 415.300 (no change)
2. Oklahoma 411.850 (first appearance)
3. Nebraska 402.300 (+1)
4. Penn State 401.983 (-2)
5. Ohio State 400.125 (+2)
6. Michigan 398.517 (-1)
7. Illinois 397.725 (-4)
8. Air Force 397.400 (first appearance)
9. California 394.950 (-3)
10. Navy 390.275 (-2)
Sims named Talladega head coach. After announcing the launch of its brand-new women’s program last week, Talladega College announced its choice for head coach yesterday – and it’s none other than former Alabama standout Aja Sims-Fletcher! After finishing her career in the 2017 season, Sims-Fletcher – an All-American on beam and floor who helped her program win back-to-back SEC titles – stayed loyal to her alma mater, working as a volunteer coach and team manager for the Tide before taking an admissions counselor role and then a student-athlete enhancement and social responsibility coordinator position at the university, all while getting her MBA.
Utah going global. The Red Rocks announced that they’ll be taking a trip to South Korea this summer to participate in exhibition meets against Korean teams! The team will be hosted by the University of Utah’s Asia Campus, and also plans on hosting meet-and-greets with Korean students aspiring to pursue collegiate gymnastics in the U.S. I can’t express how much I love this, and hope we see more programs take similar trips in the future – I’d personally love to see some NCAA teams head to Japan, which has its own thriving collegiate gymnastics scene.
We love a good vault. I’m always on the lookout for under-the-radar gymnasts or performances, and came across two on Twitter this weekend that I was excited to share. The first is Suki Pfister of Ball State performing a gorgeous handspring front pike half, which went 9.8 in the team’s match against Eastern Michigan on Sunday, and though I haven’t seen Friday’s vault from the Tennessee Collegiate Classic, that one went 9.9!
Next, there’s Deajah Rose from the D3 program Oshkosh. She also scored a 9.8, for a clean and stuck Yurchenko full. To be honest, it looks like an SEC 9.9 to me!
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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