Is gymnastics coach Al Fong a changed man?

Fong2.jpgWright Thompson of ESPN posted a comprehensive, balanced profile of one of the world’s most successful coaches, Al Fong of GAGE Gymnastics in Missouri.

Al and his partner wife Armine Barutyan-Fong coached one of my favourite gymnasts of all time, Courtney McCool, and dozens of other fantastic athletes. Currently they coach the brilliant Ivana Hong.

Fong.jpgI would love to travel to GAGE to see how they develop such superb athletes.

On the other hand, for old-timers like myself, the name Al Fong is one of the darkest clouds on our sport.

He reminds us of his gymnast, 15-year-old Julissa Gomez, who was tragically paralyzed at a competition in Japan leading up to the 1988 Olympics. Julissa died three years later. Her mother still blames Fong.

Another of his gymnasts, Christy Henrich, missed making that 1988 team by 1/10th of a point. By 1991, anorexia had whittled her down to 61 pounds. Christy died of multiple organ failure three years later, at age-22.

Was that Al’s fault?

He might not have been guilty, but he was hardly innocent.

The ESPN article intimates Al is a changed man. A more balanced, rational person than he was in the past:

Gymnastics, of course, is notorious for fanatical, overbearing coaches, but the old Fong was the worst. He pushed. He insulted. He started practices at the crack of dawn and late at night. …

Much of the article speaks of the near bankruptcy of GAGE and the Fongs personally after building a wonderful new gym.

I hope Al Fong has things much more in perspective in 2007.

Our community has much to learn from Al. He is dedicated. And a fantastic technical coach.

Do you agree?

Read the entire article for yourself: ESPN – Al Fong’s iron fist – Olympics

Published by

Rick Mc

Career gymnastics coach who loves the outdoors, and the internet.

One thought on “Is gymnastics coach Al Fong a changed man?”

  1. My wife would definitely be mad at me for posting this, but I can’t help but be frustrated anytime there are articles or publications about how great Al Fong has become since “changing.” My wife shattered her tibial plateau during a practice while under Al Fong. Was the injury his fault? Who knows, I was not present and have only heard stories about what happened. But denying her the ability to see a doctor for two weeks (part of his contract as her coach was having him sign off on all doctor visits) while forcing her to continue to practice is most definitely on him. Following that injury and the forced workouts, my wife developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (now known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). This disease ended her gymnastics career, forcing her to watch some of her best friends and teammates Travel to Athens while she stayed home. A lot of time has gone by since then, my wife has had many accomplishments, including finishing a doctorate. But she still struggles with RSD/CRPS and in the last two years has had multiple surgeries and numerous procedures simply to help ease her pain. We can’t hold a grudge against Al Fong for this, people make mistakes, but we can say that his mistake is still having an enormously negative impact on my wife’s life over a decade later. It is nice to hear that he has “changed,” hopefully the current generation of young gymnasts benefit from his growth, but let’s not forget about those gymnasts who have suffered and continue to suffer because of who he used to be.

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