The News: January 25th, 2021

For recent editions of The News click here. For a master list of all editions, click here.

News of the Week

Russia won’t appeal doping penalties
The long saga of allegations surfacing, being investigated, proven, and then the implementation of a judicial process to determine punishments is coming to an end. Russia’s anti-doping agency has released a statement proclaiming they will accept the current punishments levied against them and will not challenge it.

The good news for Russian athletes, they now know what to expect and won’t enter 2021, 2022, and 2023 with a cloud over their uncertain status. The bad news for everyone else, the sanctions are pretty much a joke. This was a case involving the most serious cheating the Olympic sports has experienced since the Cold War era. And Russia covered its tracks by any means necessary. This includes the death of at least one key witness under mysterious circumstances.

The two years of sanctions are trivial compared to what was initially proposed. Like most of my readers who follow artistic Olympic sports, I adore Russian athletes. Vladislava Urazova, Kamila Valieva, Dina Averina, Arina Averina and all the others, which is why this case is so frustrating. When state-sponsored doping occurs everyone loses. The non-Russian athletes lose in the form of medals stolen from them, the Russian athletes lose everywhere else. State-sponsored doping is athlete abuse.

It lowers life expectancy by a significant amount, causes a host of medical side effects that have lifelong repercussions, and creates an environment where harming athletes is openly tolerated. Creating a toxic training culture where other forms of athlete abuse including abusive coaching methods and sexual misconduct are more likely to occur.

The good news for fans of artistic sports is that doping is less of a problem in figure skating/gymnastics as opposed to weightlifting/endurance sports. So don’t be quick to assume your favorite Russian gymnast or figure skater is on drugs. With that being said, fans should be appalled by the way Russia was able to get through this scandal with so little punishment. I could care less about who wins which medal. I just want the amazing talent Russia has to be subjected to a non-abusive training environment, and this story doesn’t encourage that.

Nia Dennis

#NiaNation Catching Fire
One of the many gymnastics causalities of COVID-19 shutting down the 2020 sports season was stopping Nia Dennis’ online viral presence dead in its tracks. At the time it was heartbreaking as I thought Nia Dennis might go down in history as one of the unluckiest gymnasts of all time. The brand value of becoming the next Katelyn Ohashi is on par with winning an Olympic gold medal, and that was stolen from Nia in 2020.

But the good news, entering 2021 Nia Dennis is picking up right where she left off. Nia Dennis has struck gold twice because let’s face it, her success isn’t a fluke. There is something truly magical about her routines which resonates with the four-year fan. On Twitter her routine currently sits at 6 million views and rapidly increasing. At this point, it has been retweeted by so many renowned media outlets that there are too many to name. But am going to give credit to The Guardian which produced a major article on Nia, other media outlets have since followed suit.

Becky Downie

Happy Birthday Becky!!!
Becky Downie celebrated her 29th Birthday on January 24th. In doing so the Gymternet celebrated the birthday of a proven winner, an athlete who has helped infuse examples of longevity into the sport, and one of the best role models there is. Most notably, Becky Downie has been one of the strongest advocates of #GymnastAlliance and was vital to the movement gaining traction. Happy Birthday to a legend both inside and outside the gym.

COVID-19 keeps wrecking Havoc on Gymnastics Schedule
Entering 2021 I thought nothing was going to surprise me in regards to COVID-19 impacting the schedule, and well…things surprised me. It started with a meet between Southeast Missouri State and Illinois State getting canceled at the NCAA level. Meanwhile on the elite circuit the next domino fell. On Twitter FIG announced the Baku apparatus World Cup is cancelled. But then the bulldozer came. The Michigan Department of Health ordered the closure of all University of Michigan athletic activity for the next two weeks.

In other words, the situation at Michigan was so serious the government had to intervene. This WASN’T a University of Michigan decision. The reason? Michigan athletics is experiencing an outbreak of the “UK Strain” of COVID-19 that you have probably been hearing about in the news. It has been a top news story for the past two weeks or so due to this new strain being significantly more transmissible and slightly more deadly.

The UK Strain is relatively rare in the United States with only 200 reported cases in the entire country. But one of the early outbreaks of this new strain was Michigan athletics. For those wondering if this simply means the cancelation of games/meets while practice will continue, the official statement makes it absolutely clear:

University of Michigan Athletic Department will immediately pause athletic activities in all sports, including games, team and individual training sessions, until further notice and up to 14 days

According to reports, there have already been five confirmed cases involving Michigan student-athletes, with an additional 15 presumed positives. The strain has been linked to a Michigan student athlete from the United Kingdom who spent the holiday season at home in the country, and returned to Michigan as the school resumed classes. One thing I want to stress, this is merely the initial reaction to an emerging outbreak. If they keep finding more cases, the likely course of action is extending the 2-week timeline.

To add additional context, this will only fuel a controversy which occurred at Michigan earlier in the year. The controversy involves Ron Weiser who is Chair of the Board of Regents. It is arguably the most influential position in the entire University. Ron Weiser is a billionaire, and a megadonor of Donald Trump. He also donated $30 million to the University of Michigan shortly before the school made the decision to return to in-person classes and bring students back on campus. This donation, combined with his political beliefs, caused people to speculate if he was trying to promote a more relaxed policy in regards to COVID-19 social distancing measures.

But what added particular fuel to the controversy is that Ron Weiser is a major landlord in the Ann Arbor area. Meaning to bring students back on campus would benefit him financially as well. It was called “one of the biggest conflicts of interest imaginable between public health and private wealth.”

But half a day before that story broke on January 23rd, Bowling Green State announced that due to COVID-19 protocols, they were unable to field a full team against Eastern Michigan. Rather than cancel, they travelled to Eastern Michigan to press ahead with the competition. As for how close Eastern Michigan is to the University of Michigan, the two schools are separated by only six miles. They are actually two of the closest schools at the FBS level of the NCAA. Technically speaking, this would only be a problem if the Michigan-Athletics outbreak has already impacted the general public and surrounding area. But this whole situation speaks volumes as to the absurdity of continuing NCAA sports in the middle of a pandemic.

The whole thing feels like a throwback to when USAG was screwing up non-stop and in the most incomprehensible ways possible as they dealt with the fallout stemming from the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Speaking of which….

Bye Bye Busby!!!
File this under “things I forgot to include last time around.” But USAG has parted ways with Mark Busby, the legal counsel for USAG. All you need to know is that this guy was so terrible, I wrote an entire takedown article pointed specifically at him.

Blog Update

I finished the profiles of Alena Kvasha, Jackie Bender, and Vasiliki Millousi. I’m particularly proud of these three profiles. In the case of Jackie Bender, there isn’t a single result to be found of her anywhere on the Gymternet. So I got some Canadian 1990s PDF results and manually skimmed them one-by-one to find her. As for Vasiliki Millousi, it wasn’t finding the results that were hard, but finding all of them. Vasiliki Millousi produced results as recently as 2018 and went as far back as…wait for it, the 1990s.

So a special thank you to Alena Kvasha for being the easy one of the bunch, and her profile has the cleanest look of all of them. Because of the short turnout since my last edition of The News, the next two sections are going to be pretty slim.

What I’m Reading This Week

Not so much reading, but watching. On YouTube Chellsie Memmel is at it again. Her latest video is titled “Doubles and Double Doubles!!!!” Do I really need to say anything more to encourage you to click?

Throwback Article of the Week

How about a fun article where I discussed the history of gymnasts sweeping competitions? It highlights Olga Korbut, Daniela Silivas, Simone Biles, Elena Shushunova, and others.

Picture of the Week

Elena Mukhina

Shoutout To Someone Awesome

I’m adding yet another section to The News. My reader base is a mix of old school fans who love vintage era photos, and new school fans who love content of gymnasts who competed more recently. To serve both fanbases, I’m adding a second photo of the week to give an honorable mention to someone who is worthy of celebration. The News will now conclude with photos of two gymnasts reflecting a different era.

Jeanette Antolin

For recent editions of The News click here. For a master list of all editions, click here.

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