Although the Soviet Union is to be condemned for the many atrocities it committed, it did one thing extremely well—sports. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Olympics, where USSR teams won gold medal after gold medal. Although their methods were tragic, USSR athletics did get results. And one of the biggest consequences of their continued victories was the pressure put on USA Gymnastics (USAG) to deliver a decisive challenge. By 2016, the American women’s gymnastics team had won a gold medal in the Summer Olympics by almost ten points.
How did USA Gymnastics go from a solidly off-podium team to elite champions? Largely because the organization allowed Bela and Martha Karolyi to control the entire process, including the Soviet-era-inspired practice of forcing each national team gymnast to come to their training center in Texas once every month. There, Martha ignored injuries, encouraged undereating, and, most importantly, exposed the gymnasts to the national team physician, Larry Nassar.
Larry Nassar systematically sexually assaulted and abused young gymnasts for years. We know this now, thanks to a highly-publicized trial that came to a stunning conclusion in January when Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for his myriad sex crimes. Now USA gymnasts want compensation for their suffering. And what does their governing organization do? File bankruptcy.
USA Gymnastics says it declared bankruptcy because it wants to get the gymnasts their money quickly. In a perfect world, that might occur. But money is not the only issue at stake for these gymnasts. They want validation. They want recognition for the fact that they told the adults in power what was happening to them, and nothing was done about it. The abuse continued, with no thought to the lasting damage it would cause the athletes for life.
This bankruptcy will allow USAG to retain power and halt its decertification by the Olympic Committee. It will also stay all pending litigation, which includes 100 lawsuits brought by 350 plaintiffs that request $150 million in damages. It appears, once again, that USAG is hardly putting the well-being of its athletes first.