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USA Gymnastics tries to overtake Larry Nassar at start of Olympic Trials

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Saint Louis – USA Gymnastics tries to hijack the Larry Nassar scandal story. Chairman Li Li Leung wants to talk about the progress he has made over the past three years. The guarantees it puts in place to prevent sexual abuse. Programs that focus on education and empowerment. The focus on changing a culture that has produced many medals, but at a sometimes astronomical cost both physically and emotionally to the athletes who have won them.

Yet the cloud that has engulfed the organization since the first survivors of abuse at the hands of the former national team doctor remains.

While Simone Biles and the rest of the hopefuls looking to join the sport’s biggest star in Tokyo next month spent Wednesday preparing for the US Olympic Trials, a few yards away Leung acknowledged that there was real momentum towards the forward will be elusive as long as the mediation process with The Survivors of Nassar remains on hold.

USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in November 2018 in hopes of reaching a settlement within 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly slowed progress and Leung now finds herself in the same position she was when she took office in March 2019: limited by what she can say – and in some cases, what that it can do – for fear of the legal implications.

“Obviously, we would like to come out of bankruptcy (so) that we can move forward more freely with all of the things that we have been working on and that is not part of the narrative,” Leung said. . “But at the end of the day, what happened is something we learn from and use the past to inform about how we move forward.”

Leung remains “steadfast” in his belief that a settlement with the dozens of Nassar survivors will be reached, hopefully by the end of the year. A settlement would allow the organization to emerge from bankruptcy and – at least symbolically – move away a bit from one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Olympic movement.

Despite having a handful of initiatives in place, including providing athletes with a platform that allows them to anonymously provide real-time feedback on everything from conditions at national team camp to cut from their leotards, the progress in terms of public perception has evolved only in spurts and starts.

Several Nassar survivors – including Biles – have pointed out the need for a more detailed examination of the circumstances that allowed Nassar’s behavior to unfold unchecked for so long.

Leung pointed out that, according to his tally, USA Gymnastics has fully cooperated with “at least” six different entities that have looked into Nassar’s situation. She added that, by definition, if USA Gymnastics is paying for any part of an investigation, it is not really independent but proposed “we are open to any investigative body to come and investigate.”

While USA Gymnastics has preached the need for transparency in the hopes of regaining the trust of its members, things have not always gone well.

Women’s National Team Coordinator Tom Forster created a small storm after the Nationals in Texas earlier this month when he refused to speculate on petition status for gymnasts like the 2017 World Champion Morgan Hurd and 2005 World Champion Chellsie Memmel.

Forster said at the time that he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it until he spoke to the athletes. The reality, however, is that Forster spoke to the athletes, which led the organization to clarify several days later that he had not spoken about the petition process because he was not sure he had the agreement of the athletes to do so.

When asked on Wednesday if she thought Forster lied, Leung defended the man chosen in June 2018 to take over a program that spent a decade at the top of the sport.

“So my definition of lying is someone who is intentionally misleading, and I don’t believe Tom is intentionally misleading,” Leung said. “I think he was protecting the athlete.”

Leung acknowledged that Forster “could have chosen better words” to describe his interactions with the petitioning athletes, but noted how he has been praised by others for his openness that things are really changing at the level of. the elite.

“They talk more freely about Tom… and how positive he was in his role,” Leung said. “And so we saw a change in terms of communication with former athletes.”

A change that Leung understands will take years to take hold. She pointed out that “99.9%” of the organization’s athletes are not part of the elite program and that true culture change cannot be limited to gymnasts in the limelight.

“It’s all of these other disciplines that come under our responsibility and that we also have a responsibility to serve,” said Leung. “So all we do from a guiding principle perspective is we look at things through the lens of ‘How does this affect the level 9 athlete or the level 5 athlete and even Excel athletes at the end of the day? when do we put policies and procedures in place? “

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