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Gymnastic Federation falls off the beam

Friday, March 4, 2016
Dirt Under the Nails with Carla Rauseo
Thema Williams

Here we go again. More small-minded, self-absorbed people holding positions of influence and power in an organisation for which, by their actions, they have no qualifications. What the Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) has done and is doing to Thema Williams, our first ever female gymnastics Olympic candidate makes me sick. Please pass the vomit bag. 

TTGF is an organisation that is responsible for “promoting and developing gymnastics on a grassroots and national level.” However, based on media reports, it appears that its handling of Thema Williams and Marisa Dick (Williams’ substitute), demonstrates that the current TTGF council is doing the exact opposite, and putting a spoke in the wheel of an Olympic hopeful.

Let’s begin at the July 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Marisa Dick competed for Trinidad after recently rehabilitating a ruptured Achilles tendon, a very significant injury for a gymnast. In an interview posted in the St. Alberta Gazette, she stated, “It was my first time doing vault again on a hard surface since my injury.” 

As physical therapists, we are taught that one of the most basic rules in returning an athlete to play is to ensure that they can safely complete the entire skill/activity PRIOR to competition. If this was her first time on the vault on a hard floor, how then did she prove her fitness to compete to TTGF?

How did she prove to TTGF that she was the best athlete to send to the games? Not only does failure to demonstrate competence prior to return to competition jeopardise athlete safety, in this instance it questions the procedures/policies of the TTGF in athlete selection. Suspicious behaviour number one. 

Let’s move to just before the World Championships in Glasgow in October 2015. A selection process was established by TTGF which stated that the “gymnast who scores the highest all-round score at the World Gymnastics Championships will be the athlete selected by the TTGF Selection Committee to move forward to represent TTO at the Olympic Test Event.”

Williams won that spot by placing 18 athletes ahead of Dick. Yet a month later TTGF still had not officially announced her as the delegate, until the Olympic Committee apparently intervened to finally confirm that Thema was that athlete. Time is of the essence when preparing an athlete for a massive competition such as the Olympics, yet TTGF dragged its questionable feet on the issue. Suspicious behaviour number two. 

Then, suddenly we hear Marisa Dick on Canadian Radio, CBC, speaking about having two more qualifying events in which both she and Williams will have to compete in order to determine which athlete goes to the Rio Test event. Huh? Wasn’t a selection process already implemented and the results obtained? 

Furthermore, at that elite level, coaches have meticulously planned out the annual training schedule. To suddenly insert two important competitions in close succession to the World Championships and just before the Olympic Test event goes against the most basic concepts of periodisation (the athlete’s training plan), which should be understood by the TTGF. Is it just incompetence or suspicious behaviour number three, or both?

In addition, after the World Championships in 2015, TTGF named foreign-born and bred, foreign-trained and “Trinidadian on the floor but still Canadian at heart” Marisa Dick (which she so proudly posted on social media) as its 2015 nominee for Sportswoman of the Year, despite Williams’ achievement that same year of being the first T&T gymnast to ever qualify for an Olympic event. Suspicious behaviour number four. 

Then most recently, mystery woman “Georgette Heinz” submitted an old photograph of Thema posing topless but with no breasts exposed, claiming it was offensive, that Thema was a poor example of an Olympian, and that she should be disciplined. 

Then, in a bizarre and very ironic twist of fate, a topless picture (although no breasts could be seen) of Marisa Dick was leaked to the TTGF. Both athletes were sent to a “disciplinary committee,” whose decision we are still awaiting over a week later when time is of the essence. Whether a picture is offensive or not is a matter of subjectivity.

If TTGF needs help in deciding what is appropriate or not, they need not make a big brouhaha over it. If they want our athletes to compete with the rest of the world, simply look at what the world’s Olympians and their federations are doing and they have their answer. Numerous and much more sexy pictures of Olympians posing and celebrating their athletic bodies abound and we need not look further than ESPN Magazine, the Body Issue. So the lewdness (or lack thereof) of Thema’s and Marisa’s pictures is not the issue. 

Yet they are still being sent to the “disciplinary committee,” prolonging what should be a non-issue, and instead causing a distraction for both athletes. Where was the “disciplinary committee” when Marisa Dick’s coach was arrested on a Caribbean Airlines flight in June 2015? Double standards…and suspicious behaviour number five. 

Furthermore, according to Mr Brian Lewis, president of TTOC, the timing of the release of Thema’s picture is “concerning.” Not only does it distract the athlete and administrators from Olympic preparation, it comes at a controversial time just after Thema was finally named by TTOC as the athlete to represent T&T at the Olympic Test Event, after TTGF failed to do so for reasons we do not know.

It is interesting that “Georgette Heinz” kept the picture (which Thema posted 12 months ago and immediately removed not even 24 hours later), and has now produced it at this particular time. Yet no mention has been made by TTGF about investigating and validating the source of the submission, since no one in the gymnastics community seems to know a parent called Georgette Heinz. Suspicious behaviour number six. 

Through its actions, the TTGF has proven its incompetence in “promoting the sport of gymnastics at a grassroots and national level.” They have created a lack of public confidence and public distrust in their ability to manage with integrity and efficacy. They must be held accountable. The future of Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics is at stake…and not looking very promising with the current council at the helm. I’ll keep my vomit bag handy.  

Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS, ATRIC is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Certified Aquatic Therapy Rehabilitation Instructor at Total Rehabilitation Centre in San Juan.


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