Past generations of gymnasts talk about an athletic culture where tyrannical coaches sometimes physically and emotionally abused their athletes. The coaches rationalized their behavior to push athletes to achieve greater success, but sometimes the young athletes walked away from the sport permanently scarred by the experience. Some claim that those days are gone, particularly after team doctor Larry Nassar was convicted of abusing more than 200 girls and women.
Former Stanford gymnast Hailee Hoffman doesn’t see it that way. Hoffman, 24, was shocked when former coach Mary Wright was named to the U.S.A. Gymnastics Hall of Fame in August of 2020. This came days after Hoffman filed a formal complaint against Wright. In an interview with the New York Times, she said:
“I feel morally obligated to speak out because Mary’s abusive coaching was so seriously damaging that it’s taken me years to process the extent of it. It’s crazy to celebrate someone like that, especially right now when the sport is trying to get away from its toxic culture.”
The decision to induct Wright was made in 2017, and the committee said it received no complaints against the nominee before the announcement in August of 2020. It received Hoffman’s complaint from the Center for SafeSport two days after the public announcement. U.S.A. Gymnastics subsequently said it would reconsider its decision if the coach is found guilty.
Four other gymnasts and three parents whose children trained at Wright’s Olympus Gymnastics in Salt Lake City support Hoffman’s claim. One of Wright’s former assistants at the gym also is reported to have confirmed the abusive behavior and expressed surprise when informed of the coach’s induction.
Sweeping change afoot
Wright is hardly alone in facing these accusations. Investigators are looking at physical and psychological abuse cases at the club and at national-level gymnastics clubs around the world (including Australia, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and New Zealand, where Wright is also reportedly part of a group of coaches being investigated).
The president of the International Gymnastics Federation recently addressed the issue during an online speech, calling this old school approach “an antiquated, dangerous way of coaching.” He also called for the gymnastics community to break from this tradition.