USA Gymnastics demands resignation of under-fire coach

Rob Woollard
Ex USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar stands to hear his fate as he is sentenced in February 2018

USA Gymnastics said Friday it has requested the resignation of senior coach Mary Lee Tracy just days after her appointment, following an outcry by victims of jailed former team doctor Larry Nassar.

A statement from USA Gymnastics sent to AFP confirmed that the organization was seeking Tracy's resignation after a furor erupted in the wake of her appointment as elite development coordinator on Tuesday.

Victims of Nassar, who was jailed for life earlier this year for abusing more than 250 athletes -- including several stars of the USA's all-conquering Olympic team -- had lambasted the decision to hire Tracy.

Tracy found herself at the heart of a firestorm for comments she made in late 2016 -- when the first allegations of abuse against Nassar had already begun to emerge -- in which she described the doctor as "amazing."

"My Olympians have all worked with Larry," Tracy said. "He has protected them, taken care of them, worked with me and worked with their parents. He's been amazing."

Aly Raisman, a member of the US 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medal teams who was among Nassar's victims, was among those who condemned Tracy's appointment.

"USA Gymnastics has appointed someone who, in my view, supported Nassar, victim-shamed survivors, & has shown no willingness to learn from the past," Raisman tweeted.

"This is a slap in the face for survivors, & further confirmation that nothing @USAG has changed. What a profound disappointment!"

Tracy had sought to push back against the criticism, insisting she was duped by Nassar and that she had not seen or heard of any hint of his crimes during her dealings with him at various training camps.

She had told a local news network on Thursday that she may not be able to take up her position following the outcry.

Early Friday, she issued a statement on Facebook saying she would resign after being told to quit by USA Gymnastics for attempting to contact Raisman over her criticism. She later issued a separate post saying she had retracted her resignation as she sought legal advice.

- Shown the door -

But in a later statement issued Friday to AFP, USA Gymnastics confirmed that Tracy had been shown the door.

"USA Gymnastics has asked Mary Lee Tracy to resign from the elite development coordinator role," the statement said.

"We strongly believe in a culture that encourages our athletes and survivors to speak up and make their voices heard.

"As a representative of the organization, she inappropriately contacted a survivor, who is also a represented plaintiff, in response to that survivor's public criticism of her.

"USA Gymnastics decided it would be best to move forward without Ms. Tracy in this role."

In her initial Facebook post on Friday, Tracy said she was unaware that attempting to contact Raisman, who is suing both USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee for their handling of the Nassar case, was off-limits.

"I tried to contact Aly to apologize and hope we could work together to make our sport better and learn from all of the mistakes of the past," Tracy wrote.

"I was never informed that I was not permitted to speak to Ali (sic) or any of the survivors!"

Tracy's departure is just the latest controversy to rock USA Gymnastics.

The sport's governing body has presided over an unprecedented period of Olympic dominance in women's gymnastics since 2012 but failed to detect Nassar's crimes in what has become the biggest scandal in US Olympic history.

The scandal had already led to the departure of former chief executive Steve Penny in March 2017.

The United States Olympic Committee then demanded the entire board of directors be replaced in January while launching an independent investigation into the affair.

On Friday, new USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland signalled that a fresh round of upheaval may be on the cards after voicing dismay at the latest controversy.

"I'm afraid I can offer nothing but disappointment," Hirshland said in a statement reported by USA Today.

"Under the circumstances we feel that (USA Gymnastics) is struggling to manage its obligations effectively and it is time to consider making adjustments in the leadership.

"We are engaging with the USAG board to offer our perspective, and also our assistance, as they manage the situation."