Larry Nassar stole from all of his victims — innocence, trust, self-esteem and so on. The tragic aftermath of the serial pedophile and former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor is littered with hundreds of sad stories.
Each and every victim worthy of equal worth and respect.
In the case of four of his most famous though, there is also the swiping of Olympic memories, Olympic moments, perhaps even Olympic medals that they had worked toward with ferocious focus, unbending dedication and extreme sacrifice.
For Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, the 2012 London Olympics will never be recalled solely as the pinnacle of their athletic achievement, the glory days they could forever celebrate individually and together. Nassar hovers over even that.
On the surface, it was great. They won. There was a team gold (along with Kyla Ross, who has not alleged any abuse by Nassar). There were triumphs in individual events — a gold in all around (Douglas), a gold in floor (Raisman), a silver in vault (Maroney) and a bronze in balance beam (Raisman).
Yet, there were also systematic rapes at the hands of Nassar — at training camps leading up the Olympics and during “treatment” sessions during the Games themselves.
London will forever be about winning. And London will forever be about suffering.
That they accomplished as much as they did while being molested is astounding and a testament to their team nickname — the Fierce Five.
“My team won gold medals in spite of USA Gymnastics, MSU and the USOC,” McKayla Maroney said Tuesday at a New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children event.
That speech represented Maroney’s first public comments (outside of a written social media post and a victim impact statement at Nassar’s sentencing) on the subject. It won’t be her last.
Maroney and Raisman will appear Sunday evening on a “Dateline” NBC special. On Wednesday, Wieber spoke at a Senate hearing jointly headed by Jerry Moran of Kansas and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Maroney also filed a written statement to that committee. Additionally, Wieber filed a lawsuit this week against the USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee and Michigan State University in an effort to lay the blame beyond just Nassar, who is locked away in prison and will never get out.
It’s the most public the group has been since Nassar’s January sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan. That’s where Raisman in particular delivered an inspiring, tour de force statement. The fact they are using their fame to keep the issue front and center and continue the call for accountability says these are far more than great gymnasts.
“All they cared about is money and medals,” Maroney said about USA Gymnastics and others. “It didn’t seem they cared about anything else.”
As much as anyone, the gymnasts have reason to be angry with the groups that empowered Nassar as much as the doctor himself.
They were like so many little girls who aspired to the Olympics, only they had the talent and work ethic to truly pursue it. It wasn’t easy. Training was intense. Injuries were common. Competition was significant. This was their life and their passion, but the sacrifices were everywhere. Hours and hours at the gym, weeks and weeks away from home, the realization of how much their parents were giving up, financially and emotionally themselves, to help them.
They saw USA Gymnastics and the USOC as the promised land. What they got was a nightmare, and not just because they were abused but that Nassar had a way of making the nearly-impossible climb to the Olympics even more difficult than it should have been.
“Imagine how they would have performed if they weren’t being abused,” former speedskater Bridie Farrell wondered out loud at Wednesday’s hearing in Washington.
Wieber was on the national team at 11 and by 15, in 2011, she was the best gymnast on earth, taking the individual All-Around gold at the World Championship in Tokyo. She was determined, and quite capable, of duplicating that at the London Olympics and etching her name with the greatest of all time.
Instead she suffered a stress fracture in her right shin a month before the London games. She needed expert rehab. What she got was Larry Nassar.
“Who was the doctor the USAG sent to keep us healthy and help us get through?” Wieber said. “The doctor who was our abuser. The doctor who is a child molester.”
Just landing on her leg hurt. Training was shortened. Routines were simplified. She went to the Olympics lacking confidence, she said.
Wieber came in fourth in qualifying for all around, but third among the Americans, behind Douglas and Raisman. The Olympics allow only two athletes per country to compete in the medal stage. She was eliminated by just 0.359 of a point.
The singular pursuit of her life, All Around Gold, was gone like that. She immediately fell into depression that team gold could ease only so much.
“I went through a dark time,” Wieber said.
Wieber’s point isn’t that she could have or would have beaten Douglas, Raisman or anyone. Her teammates were victims themselves. She at least would have been able to fully try, though. She wouldn’t have been held back by the very organizations she thought were supporting her.
“Now I question everything about that injury and the medical treatment I received,” she continued. “Was Larry doing anything to help my pain? Was I getting the proper medical care? Or was he only focused on which one of us he was going to prey on next?”
This is the legacy of the London Games for USA Gymnastics. It goes beyond just victims; it speaks to a full betrayal of the very athletes they subsist off.
Medals were won and stars were crowned and money was printed by the organization, another triumph for the juggernaut. But at what cost? And what could they have done if the organization ran its operation less as a boot camp, where the gymnasts say they were too fearful of losing their spot on the team to speak up about anything, let alone the smiling doctor? What if anyone questioned why Nassar had such autonomy?
Wieber said Wednesday she still hasn’t heard from anyone at USA Gymnastics.
“If you’re not a currently competing athlete they don’t care,” Wieber said.
Maroney, herself, was the favorite to win her own gold medal in vault. She had long ago proven herself as the finest in the world. Yet she shockingly fell on her second attempt and wound up with silver (her “not impressed” face became a lasting imagine).
She said she was abused all that week by Larry Nassar, the man USA Gymnastics allowed to come alone to her room at night. Did that impact her performance? How couldn’t it?
“They don’t build champions, they break them,” Maroney said. “But we’re changing that.”
Indeed, they are trying. As a group, they possess a mighty bully pulpit and a champion’s will to stare down whatever challenge sits in front of them. Now in their 20s, you can’t miss them, in courts of law, in the halls of Congress and on national television.
Once quiet, they now fear no one and nothing. The Fierce Five, fiercer than ever.
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