Oh, Becca.

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.

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4 responses

  1. S

    I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment. Other than the uncharacteristic mistakes (and she’s had trouble with that vault before as well as the bb dismount), her demeanor seemed much the same as usual..she’s very focused and she actually seemed in better spirits on day 2 than she did on day 1. She rarely smiles at all, and she tends to be serious during a competition.
    Nor do I think it’s fair to let Valeri Liukin take all the blame for the incident. Yes, her vault should’ve been watered down..but hindsight is 20/20. Rebecca is now 18, and has some say I’m sure in how/what she performs. In addition, I found Marta Karolyi’s comments the most telling, specifically her statement that Rebecca had done the vault for 4 or 5 years and it was something that she knew how to do, and that she (Rebecca) had not been as mentally tough this competition. As well, I’m not sure you interpreted the shh reaction correctly – it seemed to me like Liukin was trying to calm her down.
    In addition, you can’t argue with the success of not only Nastia, but also Carly Patterson, and even recent Jr. champion Katelyn Ohashi, who might be the only one in the US capable of putting up scores like Jordyn.
    I have to say that no kid would willingly work as hard as Rebecca Bross has consistently and not want it for themselves. Look at previous videos of her, even Geddart, Jordyn’s coach said that about Rebecca (who previously trained with Jordyn). He stated she works harder than anyone and is a very “blue-collar” kid and he knew her before she moved to Plano to train at WOGA.
    I would say that while Liukin, other coaches, and Marta should not have let Rebecca do that vault..Rebecca has always been her own worst enemy.

    August 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    • you make some great points, but I’m going to have to stick with my original thesis. Becca has never looked happy to me, and the buck should stop with Valeri. Also, Marta’s comments about her not being mentally tough make me furious. Becca is plenty tough, but that’s not the same as being able to withstand what she was being asked to withstand.

      August 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm

  2. becca

    [Quote] you can’t argue with the success of not only Nastia, but also Carly Patterson [/Quote]

    Valeri was not Carly’s coach. His partner Evgeny was. Alexandrov coached Patterson before Evgeny. They and her other coaches are the one responsible for her success not Valeri.

    August 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm

  3. Ancee

    Speaking of Evgeny – where is he?? What is he doing now?

    I agree with many of the points S made – I don’t think the level of drive that Rebecca has shown so consistently for several years now can come exclusively from the parents. I’ve never really gotten the feeling that she was being pushed against her will – unless she’s something of a cyborg (and I don’t think so).

    Historically, some of this sport’s most dedicated gymnasts have looked miserable – i.e. Shannon Miller, Kim Zmeskal, Kerri Strug. With Strug, at least – it was clear (especially after she wrote her autobiography) that her gymnastics dreams were 100% her own. Kerri’s family was even reluctant to let her go to Karolyi’s – but Kerri wouldn’t be denied. She had extraordinary self-drive. I think Zmeskal’s parents were laissez-faire, too – especially for “Karolyi parents”. Her true love for the sport became obvious once she had an opportunity to “decompress” a little from the sheer overkill that was Karolyi’s pre-Olympic training.

    If anything may be a problem – I wonder if Rebecca is becoming daunted by the emerging reality that the odds of her becoming Olympic AA champion are rather long – what with Wieber, the great Russian AA’ers, and whatever other hotshots may emerge. Even before the knee injury – I had doubts as to whether Bross could make the necessary upgrades to be a top contender for Olympic AA gold. She’s still crucial for the American team – but in her perfectionistic eyes – being the backbone of the team may not be enough.

    August 28, 2011 at 3:35 am

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