Wright 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.
I 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