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The Sexual Abuse of Gymnasts: It Could Have Been Me
How Do I Know? I Was There...
Today, the world of women's competitive gymnastics in the United States is not only wildly popular and hugely successful - it is also a multimillion dollar corporation.
USAGymnastics, the governing body - is a force to be reckoned with and respected world-wide - as are the coaches and gymnasts themselves!
It wasn't always this way, however.
Buckle up as I crack a window on the gritty world of high-level women's gymnastics in a time when parents were discouraged - if not expressly forbidden - to attend practices or ask too many questions, signed contracts agreeing to dangerously low caloric intakes - and generally fawned over, and catered to their daughter's coaches in the hopes of advancing their Olympic dreams.
How do I know?
I was there...
During this time frame, circa 1975 - I was a 14 year old gymnast innocently pursuing my own Olympic dreams. I was the second Canadian ever to be invited to train at The National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics in Eugene, Oregon.
And as I recently discovered - I was very, VERY lucky!
Just 850 miles down the road horrific things were being done to girls just like me!
In the Beginning..
In 1972, after once again being crushed at the Munich Olympic Games - training methods in the United States changed dramatically. Facilities began to emerge that were laser-focused on one thing only - producing champions! To do this - they implemented the successful - yet brutal - training tactics employed by Eastern European countries.
Successful, brutal - and for the most part - secret.
Two such fledgling facilities were the above mentioned National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics - founded in 1973 by Richard Mulvihill - and Flairs Gymnastics Club - founded in 1972 by Douglas Boger in Pasadena California.
These two new-world facilities - just 850 miles apart - were both very high profile on the international stage of competitive women's gymnastics - and still are!
When Bela Karolyi - Romanian coach of Nadia Comaneci - defected in 1981 - he coached at Flairs.
It was time for the United States to own the podium - and very soon - they would.
This sudden transition also inadvertently created an environment in which Coach Boger - attaining hero status as founder, coach, AND former national champion - was so easily able to physically and sexually abuse his elite gymnasts decade after decade.
It turns out that this beloved Olympic level coach spent as much time grooming them for sex - as he did grooming them for international competition!
Where There's Smoke...
In 1982, two Flairs gymnasts worked up the courage to swear out complaints of physical and sexual abuse against their very powerful, respected, and charismatic coach - Doug Boger. While they ashamedly whispered tales of on-going rape, sodomy and forced fellatio, charges were reduced to simple aggravated physical abuse and battery against a minor.
Remember - this was a time of innocence - where the idea of a child sexual predator assuming the role of mentor or coach was unthinkable. The prosecution didn't believe they had any chance of making such incredulous charges stick.
Even more astounding is the fact that parents of other gymnasts financed his defense and stood up for him as character witnesses. Two more gymnasts were forced to perjure themselves on the stand after Boger threatened them with being thrown off the team.
Of course - he was found innocent of all charges and without missing a beat - proceeded directed back to Flairs to coach the now helpless and terrified little girls.
The abuse escalated.
There was one other important mitigating factor to his being found innocent: The dangerous nature of the sport itself and the harsh training methods accepted at the time.
After all - physical abuse was the name of the game! It and the sport of gymnastics went together like peanut butter and chocolate. Laurel and Hardy. Black and blue.
Bruises and broken bones were every day occurrences.
Was it Possible?
WAS it possible to prove which injuries were 'normal' - and which were from being lifted off the floor by the throat and choked against a wall? Or from being repeated kicked in the stomach? Or poked with toothpicks?
WAS it possible to determine which injuries were simply sport-related - and which were from having one's breast or inner thigh tissue viciously twisted - or from being burnt with a cigarette?
The governing body that would have been able to discern these differences - the USAG - opted to NOT perform an internal investigation into the charges. It was in their best interests to deny, or ignore any wrong-doing.
After all - Doug Boger produced champions. Champions in turn fill coffers.
Just like so many other stories of this nature - money trumped the welfare of children!
Rape, Sodomy, Forced Fellatio
Finally, in 2008 - a DOZEN ex-gymnasts - some of whom national and world champions - came forward to once again accuse Doug Boger of rape, sodomy, forced fellatio and long term abuse.
He was still a celebrated coach of young female athletes!
Even after coming forward a second time - decades after the ridiculous 3 year statute of limitations had expired - the USAG still named Boger their 2009 National Coach of the Year, and he went on to represent the organization - AND the country - as the National Team Coach at the 2009 World Championships.
Finally, in 2010, the USAG placed Boger on their 'Permanently Ineligible List' - disallowing him coaching privileges in any USAG affiliated gyms or competitions.
Non-USAG Affiliated Gyms
That leaves non-USAG affiliated gyms - and there are plenty of them around! No doubt there's one in YOUR neighborhood!
The USAG says they have no control whatsoever over what happens in non-affiliated gyms - nor over who does, or does not, work there!
Coach Boger simply took his show on the road to Art Sports Gymnasium in Colorado Springs - where he continued to train young girls until he was let go in September, 2011.
When a concerned parent of a child training at the Colorado Springs facility kept inquiring as to why Boger was on the USAG 'Ineligible' list (findings of investigations are kept confidential) - he was given no information and was even told to stop his bothersome questions!
By law, the list of names is on the USAG website - somewhere. Good luck trying to find it!
Who's interests are this powerful governing body protecting?
Certainly not those of our children!
Doug Boger could very possibly be coming soon to a gymnasium near YOU!
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