Shocking details of abuse made public

 

Former Australian gymnasts have gone public with an avalanche of horror stories about physical and emotional abuse to shine a light on the sport's toxic culture.

Athletes, including past Olympians, have taken to social media in recent days to detail their shocking experiences of body shaming and neglect.

Chloe Gilliland, nee Sims, who won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne as a teenager was one of those who spoke out, saying she suffered from bulimia as coaches constantly told her she was "too heavy" and even considered taking her own life.

"They never called me 'fat' but remarked that I was 'too heavy', which was why I repeatedly couldn't make it through my bar routine or the reason behind my stress injuries," Gilliland wrote on Facebook.

"If they weren't making comments about being 'heavy for the next day', the next thing they would revert to saying, was that I was just stupid.

"So at 17 despite receiving sports psychology and dietitian advice, I felt it was easier to end my own life, than to give in to what they wanted me to be."

Gilliland said her horrifying treatment eventually convinced her she could only be happy by quitting, and is "sharing this because behind those smiles on the podium, are dark and horrible things that happen in the gym behind closed doors".

Chloe Gilliland (nee Sims) is one of many who have spoken out.
Chloe Gilliland (nee Sims) is one of many who have spoken out.

Mary-Anne Monckton, a silver medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and five-time national champion, also wrote a lengthy post last week.

"The abuse (physical, mental and emotional) needs to stop, or at least be stamped out of our sport," she wrote.

"I, like so many others, have experienced body shaming, have had food withheld, been yelled at until I cried (even as an adult athlete, which is downright embarrassing), and been manipulated and 'forced' to do things that I was not physically ready for or capable of doing, which ultimately led to career ending injuries."

Monckton said gymnasts rarely call out abusive behaviour for fear it would ruin their careers.

"For anyone reading this and wondering why these things continue to happen and why gymnasts don't speak up about issues when they are having them, it is because it will ultimately 'hurt' them more than anyone else involved," she wrote.

"Imagine having everything you have ever worked for, taken away from you. This is why you stay silent; out of fear.

"This culture has been normalised within our sport and has impacted many young gymnasts' lives. These negative experiences have left me with deep scars and will take years to heal."

Olivia Vivian came home from the 2014 Commonwealth Games with a silver medal and was inspired to tell her story after seeing her fellow gymnasts go public, recalling being suffocated by the pressure of expectation at such a young age.

She said "at times the gym was toxic" and recalled "lots of yelling and many forms of criticism". She said she once spoke out but nothing was done, which discouraged her from raising her concerns again.

Vivian's desire to compete at the Olympics meant all other issues were pushed to the side but reaching the highest level came with consequences. After going to Beijing for the 2008 Games, she returned "a broken athlete and even worse, a broken person".

Vivian rediscovered her love for gymnastics at college in America and is hopeful by sharing her story, things will improve.

"Change isn't easy, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight," she wrote. "We have to accept and acknowledge it might take many years to rebuild, especially with a sport as difficult and time consuming as gymnastics."

 

Olivia Vivian is another with horror stories to tell.
Olivia Vivian is another with horror stories to tell.

Livia Giles, who represented Poland and Australia, said "gymnastics is riddled with abuse" and has tried to "bury" her painful memories. She also claimed she was fat shamed and deprived of food.

Britt Geeley complained of "being called fat by (a) coach in front of a mirror with fellow gymnasts watching" while two-time Olympian Georgia Bonora wrote on Instagram of a "culture of fear created by people in power".

Yasmin Collier said body shaming was rife and was once referred to as a "fat, lazy pig" even after starving herself because she was scared of how she'd be treated by coaches if they thought she was overweight. She added she continues to "struggle mentally and physically everyday from the things I had to endure" during her career.

Jade Sharp was due to go to the 1996 Olympics but missed out because of injury. On Facebook she wrote: "As a child, I used to wonder how the adults around me could see what was happening and not say or do something."

WHY NOW?

Many of the gymnasts who shared their experiences said they were inspired to do so by the Netflix documentary Athlete A. The program covers disgraced former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to a maximum 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting multiple gymnasts under his care.

More than 330 women accused Nassar of abuse while he worked for USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University. High profile American Olympians like Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney were among those who helped bring Nassar to justice.

While none of the Australian gymnasts going public have raised allegations of sexual abuse, the changes underway in US gymnastics have clearly had a ripple effect through the sporting community Down Under.

'WE ACKNOWLEDGE AND APPLAUD THOSE WHO HAVE SPOKEN UP'

In response to so many athletes speaking out about their horrific experiences in the sport, Gymnastics Australia encouraged more to follow suit.

CEO Kitty Chiller wrote an open letter published on the governing body's website on Wednesday in which she said "Gymnastics Australia has zero tolerance to any form of abuse in our sport" and urged everyone in the sport to "continually challenge our thinking, actions and behaviours, and we can only do this by listening to those involved in our sport".

Chiller referenced the spate of revelations sparked by Athlete A's release, and praised those who have gone public.

"While we have accomplished a lot in recent years, I know that our work in this area is not finished, and nor should it ever be," Chiller wrote.

"We acknowledge and applaud those who have spoken up - their courage and their voice.

"We see the passion that people have for the great things about our sport and we are grateful to all of you who want to help us make our sport as safe and supportive as it can be in the future.

"We are here to help you and to support you and we genuinely want to hear about your experiences and your suggestions.

"We acknowledge that speaking up is difficult. I want you to know that we are here to listen. And we are here to act."

 

Originally published as Shocking details of abuse made public


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