Courtney McCool at the 2004 Athen Olympic Games

If you haven’t read the Ziert Alert from April’s International Gymnast, you should. Paul Ziert, publisher of International Gymnast magazine, as per usual, does not hesitate to call it like he sees it. While I don’t always agree with Ziert, I really like his style. Despite the fact that they might not be popular, he isn’t afraid to make his opinions known. April’s edition of International Gymnast is no exception.

For those of you who do not get the magazine, I will attempt to summarize the basics of April’s Alert as well as share some of my own thoughts. . .

Ziert researched the United States’ Women’s lineup from the 2006 World Championships Team Finals, which, to use his word, was a fiasco. It was a line up that left most gymnastics fans confused and frustrated. In a move that arguably cost the United States the gold medal, Ashley Priess and Natasha Kelley were completely left out of the finals line up. Now I know that I have been accused on this blog as being a sore loser, but the U.S. dominated the prelims by a whopping 3.80! They were virtually unbeatable. So it was a shock to see them slip to second behind China in the finals. It was especially curious to see Priess and Kelley not listed in the line up when you consider the fact that Nastia Liukin (one of the four U.S. athletes that was listed) was injured and only able to compete on Bars. If one of the remaining 3 athletes listed had had to scratch from an event, as Chellsie Memmel almost did and probably should have, the U.S. Team would have would up in 8th place.

Ashley Priess at the the 2006 US National Championships

So, we were left to wonder why Priess and Kelley, who were both healthy and apt, were not listed in the final line up. Priess and Kelley made the only errors of the U.S. Team in prelims, with a fall each from the Beam, and I completely agree with Paul Ziert when he says that their omission from the finals line up was likely a “nasty psychological ploy to punish them for their mistakes on Beam.”

When Ziert asked Kathy Kelly, U.S. Women’s Program Director, to explain the line up, he reports that she made light of this serious error by saying, “I must have been completely brain dead or I’m really stupid.”

I’ll say. As Ziert points out, how is it possible that Kathy Kelly, her assistant Gary Warren, and National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi ALL failed to notice that they completely forgot two of their athletes?

And yet it seems to me that we have seen this behavior before. Think Courtney McCool at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. McCool did not have her best meet in the prelims and then was gone completely from the line up in the finals. McCool was one of the United States’ top gymnasts coming into Athens. She was one of two athletes to earn an automatic berth to the team during the Olympic Trials. But yet in the team finals in Athens, McCool was nowhere to be seen. Why?

When Courtney Kupets found herself unable to compete on Beam in the finals, shouldn’t the U.S. have put in McCool who was known for her stellar and consistent Beam work? You would think so, but instead, Mohini Bhardwaj lead off Team USA on Beam. Bhardwaj, who admittedly knocked one out of the ball park during Finals , would probably be the first to admit that her weakest event was Beam. And on Floor, where Kupets struggled, wouldn’t it have been wise to bring in McCool? But again, McCool found herself on the sidelines. So while the Romanians were spectacular in the Athens Finals, the U.S., who was again supposed to be a shoo-in for the gold, wound up with silver.

So what should we make of all this? I must admit that I’m not sure. Being someone who sees these things from the outside looking in I don’t profess to have many answers. And I certainly don’t have all the facts. I do know that something seems amiss in USA Women’s Gymnastics. Are the powers that be using psychological ploys and punishments? It sure seems like it. So I’ll leave you with my final two thoughts on the subject…

  1. I agree with Paul Ziert that perhaps it’s time for USAG to “find someone who will have the courage to supervise the [women’s] program properly.”
  2. If the USAG Women’s Program believes that punishing athlete’s like McCool, Priess & Kelley is a wise move, then perhaps they need to brush up on their history. The nineties alone was full of competitions where athletes who botched their performances in prelims came back to rock their sets in finals.
    Athletes like Kim Zmeskal & Tatiana Gutsu at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and countless others.

What are your thoughts?

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