At last year’s Visa’s, I stopped to chat with Valorie Kondos-Field, head coach at UCLA. She said that although she respects Valeri Liukin and the adversity he’s been through as a coach and a father (I must say that NCAA coaches WAY overuse the word adversity) she does not coach like Valeri, and she does not want to.
Awhile ago I wrote an essay, Who’s The Boss Of Rebecca Bross? in which I discussed Becca’s decision to compete at Worlds on a broken bone. More importantly, her parents, her coaches and Marta Karoyli’s decision to let her.
After the competition last year, I interviewed Becca. She was nice and quiet and shy and seemed utterly…well. She was not disenchanted with gymnastics, exactly, but she did not seem quite as engaged as some of the other girls did. And this year, watching her at Visa’s, I could see very clearly that she was not up to snuff. She looked tired and out of it and sad.
These three things flashed through my head as I watched Becca land badly on her DTY on the second day of Visa National Championships and do something to her knee. Watching Becca crumple to the floor howling in pain and clutching her knee was just stunning. Especially for such a tough cookie. As someone with a high pain threshold, who did nothing but wince when I was landed badly on a simple front tuck and snapped a bone, I cannot imagine how much pain she must have been in to react as strongly as she did. And I think there was more to it than pain. It seemed to me that Becca’s howl had at least as much to do with her anger and frustration and grief as it did with the physical pain.
I can see that going by results alone, Valeri Liukin is a good coach. Hard to argue with Nastia’s success. But I have now lost all respect for him, Obviously, freak injuries occur. This was not a freak injury. Anyone looking at Becca’s demeanor during the competition, at her uncharacteristic falls and mistakes, at her sadness, at the increasing number of injuries that have plagued her, could have guessed that something like this would happen. Obviously, Marta should have told Becca not to throw too much difficulty. Even more obviously, her parents should have stepped in long ago. And yes, Becca is 18 now, and she needs to start taking responsibility for her gymnastics. But Valeri is her coach. The ultimate responsibility lies with him. Even his reaction to her injury was telling: going up to her and saying “shh?” I mean, wtf is that?
I wonder if Valeri is rougher on Becca than he was on Nastia. I would think that he might be mentally tougher on Nastia but physically r tougher on Becca, if that makes sense.
Let’s contrast this to Chellsie Memmel. According to the Terrible Trip, Andy Memmel said that he was not going to push Chellsie to another injury, that he just could not live with himself if he did. Chellsie said that was planning to train smarter, be more careful. If only Beccan had been able to follow that plan, instead of the moronic one that her coach, her parents and her organization set out for her.
I also thought that Chellise’s headshake after Becca’s fall was both knowing and rueful. Everyone looked concerned, but Chellsie’s is the reaction that has stuck with me.
I have to wonder if somewhere inside her Becca is relieved. I am sure she is angry and frustrated and sad: however if I had to guess I would guess that relief is somewhere in there. I’m not sure how much Becca wanted gymnastics glory for herself, and that is the real tragedy of this situation.
Photographs: copyright VSteck/WildPrecious Photography 2010. Visa National Championships.