The Gymnastics Factory: The Rise and Fall of the Karolyi Ranch

marysy

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It seems the only one everyone agrees is lovely is Kyla Ross's elite coach who hugged everybody and I particularly remember her consoling Jordyn Weiber in London when she didn't make AA in qualifications.

Where would you send a kid now if you had a potential Elite? Simone Biles gym? Or Zhang/Liang, Sarah Jantzi?

What about Liang Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach who also coached Gabby Douglas in 2012? He always seemed to have a lovely and calm demeanor. Laurent and Cecile Landi were Madison Kocian’s personal coaches and she seems to have had a great relationship with them. They were at WOGA though, which doesn’t have the best reputation, and are coaching Simone Biles now. Simone’s previous coach Aimee Boorman also seemed to be quite sensible.

I read Dominique Moceanu’s book awhile back and she commented on how Amy Chow’s coaches (Mark Young and Diane Amos) were very protective of her and defended Amy when the Karolyis yelled at her for no reason. It seemed like they emphasized quality over quantity in training as well. Moceanu also praised her early coaches at Lafleur’s Gymnastics in Florida.

I don’t follow gymnastics very closely, so please correct me if I’m wrong on any of the above. The news from the gymnastics world has been so horrifying of late that I have to believe there are still some decent people in the sport.
 

floskate

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What about Liang Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach who also coached Gabby Douglas in 2012? He always seemed to have a lovely and calm demeanor. Laurent and Cecile Landi were Madison Kocian’s personal coaches and she seems to have had a great relationship with them. They were at WOGA though, which doesn’t have the best reputation, and are coaching Simone Biles now. Simone’s previous coach Aimee Boorman also seemed to be quite sensible.

I read Dominique Moceanu’s book awhile back and she commented on how Amy Chow’s coaches (Mark Young and Diane Amos) were very protective of her and defended Amy when the Karolyis yelled at her for no reason. It seemed like they emphasized quality over quantity in training as well. Moceanu also praised her early coaches at Lafleur’s Gymnastics in Florida.

I don’t follow gymnastics very closely, so please correct me if I’m wrong on any of the above. The news from the gymnastics world has been so horrifying of late that I have to believe there are still some decent people in the sport.

Isn't Liang Chow back in China coaching? The Landi's are doing a great job with Simone and there is no way she would tolerate any kind of shenanigans from a coach but when they took her on she was already very much "Simone Biles" and as such she's running the show there. Boorman always seemed very sane in a sea of insanity I agree and I know nothing about Amy Chow's coaches as I wasn't following Gymnastics so much between 1995-2004. Of course there must be some great coaches out there. I've loved watching Steve Memmel in Chellsie's adult gym/comeback journey. His interatction with the kids in their gym is terrific. Also Jade Carey's Dad seems like a good guy. Riley McCusker looks SO much happier in training down there.
 

VGThuy

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I think what helped Amy Chow a lot was that Mark Young said he never had the ambition to be an elite level coach, but he and Diane Amos felt compelled to be one for Amy when it became apparent she really did have the talent to go all the way. Amy’s parents seemed foster a great childhood for her where gymnastics was far from the only thing going on in her life so she wasn’t going to move away from home to solely concentrate on gymnastics, so the Mark Young and Diane Amos were probably the only choice for her. Of course, Amy’s parents had the resources to give Amy that healthier perspective.
 

danafan

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What about Liang Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach who also coached Gabby Douglas in 2012? He always seemed to have a lovely and calm demeanor.

Norah Flatley speaks very positively about Chow in this article: https://www.powerplays.news/p/inside-the-culture-of-fear-that-permeates

Some interesting quotes:

Coach Liang Chow, known for coaching U.S. Olympic champions Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas, was Flatley’s personal coach from 2010 until her retirement in 2017. Throughout that time, Flatley says, “he always protected us,” Flatley said. “[He] watched out for us, and made sure we were healthy and happy.”

But when it came to overtraining and restricting food there, Flatley credits Chow with protecting herself and her teammates, at risk of incurring Martha’s wrath.
“He would make sure we had food and get us snacks,” she says. “[He would] sneak it to us, obviously.” And when he didn’t want his athletes to participate in a workout, they’d go into another room and do their own.

Her 30-hour training weeks were relatively mild compared to her teammates’. She was never forced to train on an injury or lose weight. They played games in the gym so they wouldn’t get bored with training. Chow made them laugh, treated them “like humans,” she says. “I feel so lucky that I had him. He’s probably saved me a lot of hurt and pain in my life.”
 

her grace

standing with Mariah
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I finished the series. Very well done, and I liked how they got perspectives from gymnasts from the different quads and at different levels of success (Olympians and national team members).

Listening to the episode about the 2000 quad--they really went through the wringer. And then were denied most of the Olympic experience--no, you don't get to stay in the village, no you don't get to walk in the opening ceremonies. And we're going to blame you when you finish higher than you did at worlds, showing much improvement, because it was only a 4th-place finish. Hearing Schwikert talk about being starved was also chilling.

Also, Elfi's mean quote about Antolin at Olympic Trials, "There never was any hope." Really? She made the world team the year before. I think there was legitimate hope, once, wasn't there? :mad:


I think what helped Amy Chow a lot was that Mark Young said he never had the ambition to be an elite level coach, but he and Diane Amos felt compelled to be one for Amy when it became apparent she really did have the talent to go all the way.

That is interesting. Where did you hear/read that he didn't have that ambition? I had always thought he was a casualty of the Karolyi system, i.e., not willing to work within that system and decided to go back to coaching level 10s instead of elite because of the new centralized system. He was definitely outspoken about not agreeing with Bela's approach in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics because he knew what worked better for Chow than the new standardized approach. How interesting if he only did elite for Chow and was happier coaching the lower levels.

The one improvement that the Karolyi approach did do for athletes was that more athletes got to live at home. Parents didn't seem as eager to send their daughters away to one of the big name gyms, probably because they thought the camps sufficed in helping their daughters and daughters' coaches improve.
 

overedge

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@VGThuy IMO the coverage of the Karolyis also had the implicit theme of how they had escaped an evil Communist regime and were now flourishing in the freedom of the good old USA. I mean, they did escape a Communist regime, but they also seemed to be presented as examples of why USA>>>>>rest of world.
 

Rob

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I think Liang Chow is head of the Chinese Women’s team. I saw him in All Around.
 

Weve3

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Another thing about the Karolyis is why did the US become so bad on bars under their watch? Of course there were always the bars specialists like Amy Chow or Nastia Liukin but in general for all the camps you saw the same problems over and over on bars -- poor posture and struggles with inbars transitions. When you saw the Russians or Chinese or British do their bars sets then you saw the Americans it was like a joke.
True. Many American gymnasts manhandle their bar routines as if the Olympic wrestling team has suddenly infiltrated the bars event. I hate to say it, but too many are about as delicate as a bull in a china shop. Ungainly, clunky -- not good. It seems to be the throwaway exercise for several otherwise incredible gymnasts.
 

marysy

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Another thing about the Karolyis is why did the US become so bad on bars under their watch? Of course there were always the bars specialists like Amy Chow or Nastia Liukin but in general for all the camps you saw the same problems over and over on bars -- poor posture and struggles with inbars transitions. When you saw the Russians or Chinese or British do their bars sets then you saw the Americans it was like a joke.


True. Many American gymnasts manhandle their bar routines as if the Olympic wrestling team has suddenly infiltrated the bars event. I hate to say it, but too many are about as delicate as a bull in a china shop. Ungainly, clunky -- not good. It seems to be the throwaway exercise for several otherwise incredible gymnasts.

I once heard someone make the comparison that many of the US athletes took on the characteristics of the gymnasts from whatever country their coach was from. For example, Aly Raisman was basically a Romanian gymnast trained in the US since Brestyan is from Romania. By the same token, Nastia was a Russian gymnast, Shawn a Chinese gymnast (not sure I’d agree with that). Bars was never the Romanians’ strong suit (and it certainly wasn’t Aly’s), hence perhaps that’s why American gymnasts were weak in bars under the Karolyis’ watch.

Bars also seems like a different skill set that requires more finesse and rhythm than the other events.
 

VGThuy

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I don’t know, for being “bad” at bars, the US sure has some recent success with it with gymnasts who scored high there, won medals and even world titles (although Kocian’s world title like four or five-way tie was ridiculous). See my prior post on the subject. Facts are facts. The US even scored well at last year’s worlds, over countries cited as being better at bars. And it was not a one-off either. It’s been happening consistently. I mean we all have our perceptions but scores are scores. The US isn’t the Belu Romanians when it comes to bars.
 

Aceon6

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I think the US club system might have something to do with kids being behind on bars until they graduate to a higher level gym. Due to staffing and insurance liability, a lot of the gyms that introduce young kids to gymnastics don’t have them... it’s mostly floor, low beam, and vault.
 

Weve3

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Shawn a Chinese gymnast (not sure I’d agree with that).
I don't. Shawn was a big tricks gymnast. All power, or as Elfi once said, "Boom, Boom, Boom." Yeah, thanks, Elfi. 😏

Bars also seems like a different skill set that requires more finesse and rhythm than the other events.
Definitely, and although the USA may be able to pull it together as a team in the bars event, they rely on high scores elsewhere. Otherwise, bars would sink them. Thus, the beauty of a team event.

I don’t know, for being “bad” at bars
Not completely horrible, just not great. The majority of USA gymnasts possess enough skill to get the job done. However, many lack finesse and style, and, as mentioned, are prone to be ungainly and clunky. We've seen a few very talented/gifted gymnasts muscle their way through the entire exercise. Cringe-worthy.

The US women have never been weak on bars as a team.
Sure, as a team relying on the other events, or else they would be toast. If bars were the deciding factor, it would be a sketchy, rough road for Team USA.

Due to staffing and insurance liability, a lot of the gyms that introduce young kids to gymnastics don’t have them... it’s mostly floor, low beam, and vault.
True. There needs to be a concerted effort to change that - not holding my breath, but not utterly fatalistic about it, either. This bar event weakness is not necessarily a competition buster. Still, it is not a reliably strong event for them, either, except for one or two specialists, typically. I'm not trying to be cute or mean-spirited at all. I would genuinely like to see some improvement beyond a specialist or two. Attempt to address a glaring weakness, make an effort, that's all.
 

VGThuy

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I don’t know, we placed second to the Russians on bars at last year’s Worlds. We’ve consistently place around there actually. Again, we have recent world medalists and champions on bars and consistently have one or two gymnasts make the bars final. It’s not a one-off Lavinia Milosoveci winning bars title either. I also think it’s funny that being super strong on the other three events is being used as a mark against them as if that’s a bad thing. That’s like saying, if Simone didn’t have all that difficulty and excellent textbook execution, she’d be toast! If Khorkina didn’t invent new high-difficult moves to do to fit her strengths and height, she’d be toast. I mean technically it’s true, but those are things they did that should be applauded because they’re actually hard and rare.
 

Weve3

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I don’t know, we placed second to the Russians on bars at last year’s Worlds. We’ve consistently place around there actually. Again, we have recent world medalists and champions on bars and consistently have one or two gymnasts make the bars final. It’s not a one-off Lavinia Milosoveci winning bars title either. I also think it’s funny that being super strong on the other three events is being used as a mark against them as if that’s a bad thing. That’s like saying, if Simone didn’t have all that difficulty and excellent textbook execution, she’d be toast! If Khorkina didn’t invent new high-difficult moves to do to fit her strengths and height, she’d be toast. I mean technically it’s true, but those are things they did that should be applauded because they’re actually hard and rare.
Actually, Simone has worked very hard to improve her bars. Props to her. However, it is a fact that many gymnasts do not train the skill very aggressively. That needs to change. Imho.
 

VGThuy

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I do think that under the Karyolis, beam was everything but luckily the US has a semi-centralized system from 2001-on and not a total centralized system. That and controlling the landings before COP made landings less damning and put emphasis back on overall execution all-around. It’s great emphasis is back on execution of all skills but I do think it made gymnasts much stiffer and the way they perform is now so...hard and “ta-da” because they have to show full control for the judges. Any dancing of movement in and out of the elements may be misconstrued of lack of control.
 

floskate

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I do think that under the Karyolis, beam was everything but luckily the US has a semi-centralized system from 2001-on and not a total centralized system. That and controlling the landings before COP made landings less damning and put emphasis back on overall execution all-around. It’s great emphasis is back on execution of all skills but I do think it made gymnasts much stiffer and the way they perform is now so...hard and “ta-da” because they have to show full control for the judges. Any dancing of movement in and out of the elements may be misconstrued of lack of control.

This is my main issue with floor ex today. I hate the endless preparations for a spin that is then often poorly executed and THEN they stumble around and present it before moving on to the next thing. They need to build in a transitions component IMO. All those dance skills are way harder to do and way more meaningful when they are fully incorporated into choreography.
 

Weve3

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Ashton Kim, a former elite gymnast with Texas Dreams coached by Kim Zmeskal and Chris Burdette shared this letter to her former coaches on twitter:

The (former student) apple doesn't fall far from the (former coach) tree. After all, Kim was a Károlyi protégé. It appears she and her cohorts picked up some nasty habits. Good for Ashton for holding them accountable. It starts by speaking out against this type of abuse, and those who condone it.

Ashton's list of injuries (surgeries) alone is a heartbreaking testament to the environment of callous, cold-hearted treatment, and abuse that too often permeates gyms. This coaching via tyrant mentality must end.
 

Aceon6

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The whole “make them more scared of the coach than the pain or fear” seems to be the de facto method. I guess the coaches are too lazy to train kids with supportive supervision.
 

her grace

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The (former student) apple doesn't fall far from the (former coach) tree. After all, Kim was a Károlyi protégé. It appears she and her cohorts picked up some nasty habits.

Zmeskal also trained with the Karolyis from childhood as she was a native Houstonian. IIRC, she was already there when Retton trained there.

In contrast, Retton was only there for 1-1.5 years, Strug moved to Karolyis at 13ish and then came back in 1995 so around 3 seasons total. Moceanu arrived around age 10. But Zmeskal was steeped in the Karolyi environment for years and from a young age.
 

Weve3

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Zmeskal also trained with the Karolyis from childhood as she was a native Houstonian. IIRC, she was already there when Retton trained there.

In contrast, Retton was only there for 1-1.5 years, Strug moved to Karolyis at 13ish and then came back in 1995 so around 3 seasons total. Moceanu arrived around age 10. But Zmeskal was steeped in the Karolyi environment for years and from a young age.
ETA: initial post interrupted - mobile phone snafu. :inavoid: Technology... :drama:

Anyway, I was starting to post that the Károlyi's clearly influenced Zmeskal, and, of course, she was apt to proceed with their coaching methods and behaviors due to her history and length of time as their student. This is evident by her present coaching disposition as recently outlined by Ashton, for one thing. It's too bad that Kim might feel the need to carry on this unfortunate tradition of antagonizing her students. It's a shame she chose not to resist that horribly inherent coaching effect and approach that she apparently approves of and puts into play herself. However, when you are steeped in that environment (as mentioned), it's hard to shake. That's the excuse anyway - but not justified on any level.
 
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ilovepaydays

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Ashton Kim, a former elite gymnast with Texas Dreams coached by Kim Zmeskal and Chris Burdette shared this letter to her former coaches on twitter:


And now Kennedy Baker has added her experiences at Texas Dreams.

So.....are Kim and Chris Burdette under (or going to be under) investigation by SafeSport or USA Gymnastics? I’m not seeing it anywhere.

BTW, I’m :watch: for the next GymCastic episode this week......
 

danafan

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I don't know if Baker or Kim filed an actual safesport complaint. I don't know if USAG will start one based on a social media posts. I sure hope they sent their letters to the coaches though.
 

FiveRinger

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And now Kennedy Baker has added her experiences at Texas Dreams.

So.....are Kim and Chris Burdette under (or going to be under) investigation by SafeSport or USA Gymnastics? I’m not seeing it anywhere.

BTW, I’m :watch: for the next GymCastic episode this week......
I haven't had a chance to read Kennedy's letter yet. Ashton said that she sent Chris and Kim copies to which she says that they have apologized. She stated that she didn't want said apology, paraphrasing here, she wants accountability and change. Someone correct me if I got her wants wrong. It's terrible that I've read so much and heard so much about the gymnastics cesspool that I might not be properly attributing that last part.
 

Weve3

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It sounds like Kim has many anger issues, close to zero temperament, and appears to be emotionally unstable and very immature. At the same time, Chris stokes the fire and comes across the [email protected]

When the flood gates open... What a mess.
 

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