*Content Warning: this episode explores the topics of physical, mental, and sexual abuse in sport*
In the second episode with Georgia Cervin on the international history of women’s artistic gymnastics, we tackle the topic of abuse and especially sexual abuse in the sport. Georgia explains how contrary to contemporary popular media portrayals, American gymnastics’ coaching culture was rife with abusive elements before the Karolyi’s and Nasser arrived on the scene, as famous gymnast Jennifer Sey has repeatedly spoken about in her published work and public speaking. The Karolyi’s built on the cultural foundations of American gymnastics when they arrived, thereby contributing to—but not instigating—the abuse of girl gymnasts.
Georgia moreover gives us her take on the recent documentary Athlete A. While she explains her critiques of it, Georgia also shares with us what Athlete A does really well in portraying the women’s story to the audience. As a former gymnastics coach herself, we discuss the limited training opportunities for coaches based in healthy and educational methods. Lastly, we hear about Georgia’s recent collaborative work interviewing former elite gymnasts and providing practical suggestions to FIG and other gymnastics national governing bodies on healthier coaching practices (which were almost categorically ignored), and why women’s artistic gymnastics can and should be a feminist sport. She cites the resurgence of adult female gymnasts, using 45-year-old Oksana Chusovitina and 32-year-old Chellsie Memmel (with an IG following of nearly 45k!) as a positive trend for the sport.
If you missed it, don’t forget to check out the first episode with Georgia that provides the pre-Karolyi history of the sport!
You can find out more about Georgia Cervin and her work on her website.
Her collaborative report on how to healthily sustain gymnasts’ careers into adulthood, which was almost completely ignored by the sport’s most important bodies and leaders: “Coming of Age: Towards Best Practices in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics.”
Instagram account for Chellsie Memmel, the 2005 World Champion who is documenting her adult gymnastics journey and has nearly 45k followers.
After listening to the episode, check out our recent piece "Canceling the College-Football Season Isn't Enough" published in The Chronicle of Higher Education