Tokyo Olympics: USA Gymnastics needs more reckoning with Nassar and Karolyi scandals.

Like all women's gymnastics, uneven bars started as a balance event. It was meant to show flexibility and ladylike panache. It became closer to its male cousin, the high bars, over the next century. The uneven bars evolved into a poetry in nonstop motion, with those amazing release moves and, perhaps, swing. Advertisement Advertisement Advertisement Suni Lee, a gymnast who excels on this apparatus can be described as: She can swing bars. A break in motion while swinging is about as dangerous as missing a release or crashing onto the floor. Because gymnastics is hard, this happens all of the time. When a bar skill goes wrong in practice, the gymnast will pop off the apparatus and regroup. However, in competition, this pop-off can cost a whole point. This is where muscling in comes in. Muscling up is a term used in certain situations, such as handstands. Muscle-throughs are one of the greatest and most effective ways to avoid uneven bars. The gymnast doesn't fall through her swing, which is how it should go, but by the strength of her arms, core, and most importantly her will. Although muscling through can save a gymnast the 1-point penalty for a fall, it is still a significant deduction and routines rarely recover. Advertisement USA Gymnastics, the scandal-plagued American sports governing body (more about that in a moment) tried its best to overcome its own disastrous mistakes after the Rio Olympics. The unpleasant surprises that we saw at these Games, including Simone Biles' inopportune case with the twisties, exposed the team's complete dependence on her for the win everyone had so foolishly anticipatedwere the consequences. It is clear that silver is a beautiful color and gymnasts did exceptionally well in extraordinary circumstances. These circumstances did not begin with Biles' withdrawal, nor with the pandemic that decimated everyone's training programs. USAG was already a misstep. In the interim, USAG's national team program did not properly atone for its house burning down and made no overtures to rebuild something more comfortable for survivors. The Tokyo Games displayed the ashes of that fire again, and USAG had to acknowledge all aspects of it before it began preparing for 2024. Advertisement Subscribe to the Slate Culture newsletter and receive the best movies, TV, music, books, and other news straight to your inbox. Signing you up was not possible due to an error Please try again. To use this form, please enable jаvascript. Email address: I would like to receive updates on Slate special offers. You agree to our Privacy Policy & Terms by signing up. Thank you for signing up! You can cancel your subscription at any time. Let's go back to 2016 to see what I mean. Let's go back to 2016. If 2016 were a routine, USAG, which certifies all competitive programs in the country, was flying as high as Simone Biles' double-double dismount. Simone had just returned five Rio medals. Marta Karolyi was the national team coordinator. Valeri Liukin was co-owner of a gym which produced back-to-back Olympic champs. Everything was going brilliantly. Advertisement We soon discovered that it was not. The Indianapolis Star reported a terrible story shortly after the Olympics. USAG's longtime doctor, Larry Nassar was accused of numerous accounts of sexual abuse of minors under his care. Over the next few decades, these multiple accounts would grow to hundreds, with many of the same Olympians who brought the organization glory and gold. The series of horrifying discoveries would be stopped at every turn by an organization that was closing ranks. Advertisement This is how it ended. USAG was sued for hundreds of million dollars and declared Chapter 11. The new CEO was charged with redeeming an irredeemable company. There was still one problem. The same organization that had taken so many steps to correct the situation (sort of), also had a national elite program and an Olympics to run. Biles raised the issue with USAG and the Karolyi Ranch, the Texas training camp where the elite gymnasts were invited to train several times a year. USAG then relocated to an Indianapolis gym. USAG gave Liukin her boot and replaced him with Tom Forster who is the most elite coach in the sport, only after gymnasts exposed Karolyis' history of verbal abuse and psychological abuse. Advertisement Advertisement Forster was the one who was suddenly given the task of catching the program in mid-freefall, and somehowwhile the court cases were still being heardpiecing together perhaps the most small Olympic team in modern times. He was unfamiliar with the training site, as well as the rest of it. It was all very familiar. It was those stressful, centralized camps where every move of every gymnast was scrutinized? It's still a thing. Forsters are the silent presence most essential at high-profile meetings. It's still a thing. Every gymnast asks Tom, "Is Tom mad?" Still a thing. (He didn't appear so from the outside so it's not like the Karolyi regime. Yes, USA Gymnastics' proverbial routine went wildly, tragically and very publicly wrong. However, the organization spent the 201720 quadrennium deciding the best course of action to be a muscle-through. Just as a muscling-up gymnast relies too heavily on her strength in order to force her into a handstand position, so did Forster and Company rely on the tremendous skill of one athlete. His perceived advantage over the rest was so great that he almost said aloud that it didn't matter who he had on the team. Advertisement Advertisement Advertisement You probably also know the ending of that chapter. Biles was out and the five remaining members of the U.S. delegation, three on the official team, and two others did an amazing job. However, they were not without a bit of resentment at being under so much pressure to lead the team. This had been a burden that had been placed solely upon Biles until then. Grace McCallums' and Jordan Chiles mistakes on the floor exercise would have been absorbed by her massive advantage in difficulty. The fact that there were no vaulters in the team competition roster, other than Biles, was largely ignored by the rest of the gym nerds. It was now incumbent upon the team to perform their poor (by elite standards) floor routines, and pedestrian Yurchenkos to lift them. Forster didn't consider the possibility of Forster leaning too hard on the programs pillar that it might tip over. It makes sense since his organization has been able to fail to see obvious problems. Advertisement This was due to the program's blunders, which at best contributed to the adversity. The U.S. women still did very well at the Olympics. To rapturous praise, every single American female artistic gymnast returned home to carry hardware. Even the one who didn't qualify for finals and the one with an inner-ear problem. She was left with hardware. You might argue that USAG didn't deserve a team that came together in the face of incredible adversity to win these Games. This is true, and one could be right. We all have bounties that we are not worthy, so we shouldn't let USAG take away the amazing achievements of Biles Lee, Carey and Chiles, McCallum and MyKayla skinner. Advertisement Advertisement You could also argue that USAG was right to try and get through the past half-decade. What could USAG have done differently? What if the organization had just left the most skilled U.S. team in history in chaos. This would have been unfair to the athletes as well. USAG did just fine, even though the gymnasts were performing so well in such difficult circumstances. It's hard no. This was due to the blunders made by the program in trying to get through. These Godforsaken Olympics have ended. It's time to do something else. USAG must now take the full-point deduction it has been trying to avoid for five year. It is time to do what it needs. This means that USAG will finally allow what it has been avoiding for five years: an independent, rigorous investigation into who knew what. The investigation must be transparent and open to all findings. USAG must stop valuing medals above human beings. Maggie Haney, Laurie Hernandez's former coach in 2016 and gold and silver, was temporarily suspended from USAG. Maggie Haney is not allowed to reinstate her membership. Advertisement Advertisement It is time to put an end to the Indianapolis training camps. USAG must find a way that makes them less disruptive and more harrowing. The time has come to amplify the minor corrective measures taken in the past five years. These reforms were largely possible because Biles was able to, and did, use her voice to change the world. These athletes should be allowed to eat enough, have fun, and speak out. Don't make them suffer from injury. This may mean that the 2024 team wins silver or bronze again, or even finishes on the podium, but it also means that there will be a healthy program for the Games when they return to the homeland in 2028. Let's not forget the fall. Advertisement To be fair, I don't think a medal-less Paris Olympics will happen, regardless of what the U.S. team does. It has a tremendous amount of depth. The alternate Tokyo team could have won bronze at these Games. Perhaps even silver. Even if the program is stalled, USA Gymnastics must not continue to push through. They will spend another quadrennium putting too much pressure on the shoulders and backs of the athletes they failed to protect. USA Gymnastics must recognize when swinging goes wrong, and then remove the apparatus. USA Gymnastics needs to take a deep breath, stop swinging and go around the gym metaphorically until it finds the right way to do this.