A new book called Chalked Up by ex-gymnast Jennifer Sey appears to confirm what many of us have long suspected: gymnastics is a weird and creepy sport. Not the tumbling and flipping part; that's cool enough. But the entire gymnastics complex that takes little girls and hammers them into world class athletes with eating disorders is a little sickening. And all those middle-aged men coaching—what are they doing there? I choose to sweepingly judge the lot of them as shady characters. Sey's experiences, related in a new interview with Salon, certainly reinforce that impression:
Were they actively encouraging you to develop an eating disorder?
Yes, absolutely. I don't think they would say, "Go throw up," or "We want you to be anorexic," but the fact is that they were asking us to do things that were impossible without engaging in behaviors that were dangerous. People weren't quite as sophisticated in their understanding of eating disorders then as they are now, so I don't know if they understood that there were long-term psychological and physical effects.
Then the commenters jump in: "As a skinny little 8yr old I was mocked for having "baby fat" by coaches," says one. "Another gym told me (at 5'1 100 pounds of pure muscle- no eating disorder here!) that I had to lose 20 pounds to train with their team," says another. Some jump to the sport's defense, but the insane weigh-in standard stories seem common. Sey also says her doctor and coaches essentially conspired to have girls training even when they were injured. And:
Throughout the book, you make elliptical references to male coaches who are attracted to young girls and imply that your own personal coach, John, was one of them. What did you mean when you said that he was "lewd and lascivious" and "may have liked being near all the barely dressed teens, but ... never explicitly let on"?
He was never inappropriate with us, but he was a really flirty guy, and we all saw that. And sometimes the women he flirted with were very close to our age — 18, 19 years old, and we were 15 or 16. There were a lot of things he did that made me feel weird — he was a weird guy. The conditions of the sport are strange, and that was what I was trying to say. Most men that coach women gymnasts have never been gymnasts themselves. So I always wondered, even as a child: Why do these men want to coach little girls? In some instances, it's purely financial. But I think in the minority of cases, there are men who are interested in little girls.
Previously held vague suspicions now anecdotally confirmed!