The Problems with Gymnastics

I’m just gonna say it: I think there are some serious problems in the way that gymnasts are coached and developed.
Now, before I go any further, I want to say very very very clearly that I have NO firsthand knowledge of any of this. This is ALL speculation/thoughts/etc. NONE of this is stuff that I know for a fact, except for what I think about it!
Reading about the way that gymnasts are treated makes me stomach turn. I’ve been reading a bit about the Soviet system of training, and while it produced some of my favorite gymnasts of all time, it makes me sick to hear what these girls might have endured. (I said MIGHT). Among them, being slapped, learning how to not eat (developing EDs on their own, basically), and even possibly being forcibly impregnated and then made to have an abortion. Here in the US we’ve had our fair share of gymnastics scandals. It was recently alleged that Bela Karolyi, the granddaddy of gymnastics, had physically abused his students over the years, and it seems pretty damn clear that they all suffered emotional abuse–at least the way I define it, which is to say, being degraded constantly.
I know the gymnastics world is rife with eating disorders and coaches who ignore injuries and all sorts of things, and I must say, if even a tenth of the things I’ve heard are true, then the ends do NOT justify the means. no way, no how. I love gymnastics. I think it is the epitome of athleticism. Good gymnastics is about stretching the human body to its’ limits, defying gravity, doing things that should not be possible. It is a truly amazing sport. But I do not think that creating beautiful gymnasts means that it is all right to subject them to ANY kind of abuse.
Let me be clear here. I don’t know a ton about coaching. I understand that sometimes, you need to be “tough” on kids–but I also think the entire concept of “tough love” is often used to cover up abuse. Pushing a child to achieve her goals if they are her goals is one thing, especially when done in a manner filled with underlying compassion. Being mean is just unacceptable.
I worry sometimes about these girls and their lack of childhoods. I think about them having to train so much at such young ages and all the things that they will miss out on. I know, I know, athletes this dedicated are rare. And if they truly want it, then they should go for it–but not at the expense of their physical or emotional health, and not because someone else wants them to.


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