Right now you can’t avoid hearing alarmist coverage of ex-gymnast Jennifer Sey’s new book Chalked Up. Certainly the publisher added this to the title: Inside Elite Gymnasticsâ€™ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams in order to sell books in the run-up to the Olympics.
You and I know, there are very few “merciless” coaches. Some “overzealous parents”. And that eating disorders are no more prevalent than in the general population.
Getting to the Olympics is elusive. That part’s true.
(The story not interesting to the media is that gymnasts are amongst the best protected and nurtured kids anywhere. I wonder how many journalists covering this story go home after work and drive their kids to gymnastics.)
An Australian morning TV show called Sunrise (video) had slightly more balance than some of the American broadcasts I’ve seen.
At least, it referenced the official response:
Statement by Gymnastics Australia
“Gymnastics Australia is dismayed at former US gymnast Jennifer Sey’s critical view of the gymnastics world and the cloud that it casts over the high performance programs, coaches and athletes training and competing in the sport in Australia.
No one is denying that the goals for elite gymnasts are difficult to achieve and that the athletes require outstanding commitment, hard work and sacrifice to succeed. The athletes who take up this challenge are gifted. Gymnasts within our national high performance program receive the best possible support from Gymnastics Australia and from within our national and state institute programs. The athletes’ welfare is paramount and is an important factor in achieving their dreams. ”
Jane Allen, CEO, Gymnastics Australia.
Still, The Australia Gymnastics Blogger was incensed:
… I am sick of ill-informed and sensationalist pieces on our sport being put out for the public’s viewing. …
I keep expecting media interest in this book to fall off the cliff as the events described happened so long ago. But this story seems to have “legs”, as they say. That’s why it was released in the run-up to the Olympics.
If you love gymnastics. And hate the skewed perception it’s getting from the media. Take comfort in the fact that the media is fickle. They will drop this story any day now. No one will want to interview Jennifer Sey.
On the bright side, it’s putting pressure on those few abusive coaches out there. And forcing clubs to be more transparent. Scrutiny on our sport is a good thing.
I don’t deny that the things Jennifer talks about have happened somewhere. But they are very rare.
Jennifer uses words like “endemic”. That’s simply a lie.
UPDATE – from the recent Salon interview:
Sey spoke with Salon by phone from her home in San Francisco. …
Salon: Is it possible that you were just the victim of rogue coaches? I know the Parkettes Training Center has a particularly bad reputation — it was even the subject of an unflattering CNN documentary in 2003.
Sey: [This behavior] is endemic to the sport.