Author: Hannah Robbins
If you ask anyone in the gymnastics world, or really the world in general, who is the best gymnast of all time, they would likely say Simone Biles. She won more gold medals at the World Gymnastics Championships than any gymnast before her and is tied for most gold medals won by a gymnast at the Olympics. In 2018 ESPN named her the most dominant athlete.
In 2013, though, Biles came in second at the American Cup, her first major meet at the the highest level of gymnastics. The competitor who came first was Katelyn Ohashi. Ohashi, only 16 at the time, competed a beam routine at that meet that commentators said was “good enough to have contended no only for a medal in London, but for gold.”
Before Biles dominated and re-defined the sport, everyone expected Ohashi to become the next golden girl. She trained under the same coaches as 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin and perfectly combined poise and power. Soon after the American Cup, however, Ohashi vanished from the elite world. At the time she had just had surgery on her shoulder and back, stating that her as the reason for stepping out of the elite world. Now, however, Ohashi cites the prevalent abuse in the gymnastics world as the main reason for why she left.
The world was shocked when they found out that Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor, had sexually abused countless young gymnastics, such as Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney. However, rumblings about abuse in the elite gymnastics world floated around for years before Nassar was exposed.
The heads of the girls’ national gymnastics team, Bela and Martha Karolyi, have been accused of abuse by ex-gymnastics for years. They rose to fame for being the Romanian coaches who put gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci on the map. Soon after their success in communist Romania, they defected to the United States.
They continued to receive acclaim, and eventually led the national team at their rural ranch in Texas. Girls felt that the seclusion of the ranch trapped them in a world where the Karolyis had the ultimate power. The coaches, doctors, food, and leisure activities were all decided by Bela and Martha. Gymnasts would often compete while injured, either because their coaches would push them to keep competing or because they were afraid of being alone with Nassar, who was the only doctor at the ranch.
Martha has also been accused of fostering eating disorders by praising girls who weighed too little, and telling girls healthy girls that they weighed too much. Ohashi and many other girls, felt restricted by the pressure to stay small. Gymnastics, a sport traditionally dominated by girls in their mid-teens, favors tiny bodies. As girls went through puberty, coaches like the Karolyis pressured on the girls to stay incredibly small. Allegations of verbal and physical abuse by the Karolyis have followed them throughout their entire career.
Video courtesy of YouTube.
In January the world rediscovered Ohashi when her floor routine, which received a perfect 10, went viral. Not only was the choreography and tumbling flawless enough to earn her a perfect score from every single judge, the performance she gave was electrifying. The joy on Katelyn Ohashi’s face as she does her UCLA gymnastics floor routine is amazing when compared to her floor routine at the American Cup in 2013. She seems truly happy, something not visible when she was in an environment where her winning came before a love of the sport.
At UCLA, head coach Valorie Kondos Field, or Coach Val, promotes a culture of teamwork and a network of support. Field came from the dance world, so her coaching style focuses more on fun performances than winning medals. She puts an emphasis on fun. She does not push girls to be a certain size or perform a certain way.
When the gymnastics world first learned that Ohashi would not compete elite anymore, it seemed as though she had wasted an opportunity to become on of the next great gymnasts. However, her floor routine this January proved that she made the right choice. She may have lost out on a couple medals, but she gained back a passion and love for the sport. Katelyn Ohashi’s story is one of survival, rebirth, and success on her own terms. She may not have an Olympic medal, but she has happiness.