US Gymnasts Tell AP Sport Rife With Verbal, Emotional Abuse

They were little girls with dreams of Olympic gold when they started in gymnastics. Now they’re women with lifelong injuries, suffocating anxiety and debilitating eating disorders. 

They are the other victims of USA Gymnastics. 

Thirteen former U.S. gymnasts and three coaches interviewed by The Associated Press described a win-at-all-cost culture rife with verbal and emotional abuse in which girls were forced to train on broken bones and other injuries. That culture was tacitly endorsed by the sport’s governing body and institutionalized by Bela and Martha Karolyi, the husband-and-wife duo who coached America’s top female gymnasts for three decades.

The gymnasts agreed to speak to AP, some for the first time, after the recent courtroom revelations about USA Gymnastics’ former team doctor, Larry Nassar, who recently was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting young athletes for years under the guise of medical treatment.

The Karolyis’ oppressive style created a toxic environment in which a predator like Nassar was able to thrive, according to witness statements in Nassar’s criminal case and a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the Karolyis and others. Girls were afraid to challenge authority, Nassar was able to prey on vulnerable girls and, at the same time, he didn’t challenge the couple’s harsh training methods.

“He was their little puppet,” Jeanette Antolin, a former member of the U.S. national team who trained with the Karolyis, said. “He let us train on injuries. They got what they wanted. He got what he wanted.”

Young girls were virtually starved, constantly body shamed and forced to train with broken bones or other injuries, according to interviews and the lawsuit. Their meager diets and extreme training often delayed puberty, which some coaches believed was such a detriment that they ridiculed girls who started their menstrual cycles.

USA Gymnastics declined to answer questions for this story, and the Karolyis didn’t reply to requests for comment. The Karolyis’ Houston attorney, Gary Jewell, said the Karolyis didn’t abuse anyone.

Some female gymnasts in the U.S. were subjected to abusive training methods before the Karolyis defected from their native Romania in 1981. But other coaches and former gymnasts say the Karolyis’ early successes — starting with Romania’s Nadia Comaneci becoming the first woman gymnast awarded a perfect score in competition — validated the cutthroat attitudes that fostered widespread mistreatment of American athletes at the highest levels of women’s gymnastics.

The Karolyis, who helped USA Gymnastics win 41 Olympic medals, including 13 gold over three decades, trained hundreds of gymnasts at their complex in rural Huntsville, Texas, known as “the ranch.” They selected gymnasts for the national team and earned millions from USA Gymnastics. 

A congressional committee investigating the gymnastics scandal said in Feb. 8 letters to the Karolyis, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee that they were all “at the center of many of these failures” that allowed Nassar’s sexual abuse to persist for more than two decades.

It’s unclear what the Karolyis knew about Nassar’s sexual abuse and whether they took any action to stop it.

Martha Karolyi, in a deposition given last year as part of the lawsuit against the Karolyis and numerous others, acknowledged that “in or around June 2015” she received a phone call from the then-head of the national gymnastics organization, Steve Penny, informing her that the organization had received a complaint that Nassar had “molested a national team gymnast at the ranch.”

The deposition was included in a Feb. 14 letter to two U.S. senators from John Manly, an attorney representing Nassar victims in a lawsuit that seeks monetary damages and court oversight of USA Gymnastics.

Manly cited the deposition in accusing the sport’s governing body of lying to Congress. 

In a timeline submitted to a congressional committee investigating the scandal, the organization said it was told in mid-June of an athlete “uncomfortable” with Nassar’s treatment, but that it was not until late July 2015 that it decided to notify law enforcement “with concerns of potential sexual misconduct.”

Penny, the former USA Gymnastics chief, said in a statement that Martha Karolyi was mistaken about the timing of his call.

Texas has one of the strongest child abuse reporting laws in the nation, requiring anyone who has reason to believe abuse has occurred to immediately alert authorities. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine.

In the deposition, Martha Karolyi said she did not discuss what she learned about Nassar with anyone but her husband, her lawyers and the USA Gymnastics official who called her. 

Jewell, the Karolyis’ attorney, said the couple didn’t know about any sexual assault complaints involving Nassar until Martha Karolyi was contacted by a USA Gymnastics official in the summer of 2015.

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EU Leaders Draw Up Battle Lines for Post-Brexit Budget

European Union leaders staked out opening positions Friday for a battle over EU budgets that many conceded they are unlikely to resolve before Britain leaves next year, blowing a hole in Brussels’ finances.

At a summit to launch discussion on the size and shape of a seven-year budget package to run from 2021, ex-communist states urged wealthier neighbors to plug a nearly 10 percent annual revenue gap being left by Britain, while the Dutch led a group of small, rich countries refusing to chip in any more to the EU.

Germany and France, the biggest economies and the bloc’s driving duo as Britain prepares to leave in March 2019, renewed offers to increase their own contributions, though both set out conditions for that, including new priorities and less waste.

Underlining that a divide between east and west runs deeper than money, French President Emmanuel Macron criticized what he said were poor countries abusing EU funds designed to narrow the gap in living standards after the Cold War to shore up their own popularity while ignoring EU values on civil rights or to undercut Western economies by slashing tax and labor rules.

Noting the history of EU “cohesion” and other funding for poor regions as a tool of economic “convergence,” Macron told reporters: “I will reject a European budget which is used to finance divergence, on tax, on labor or on values.”

Poland and Hungary, heavyweights among the ex-communist states which joined the EU this century, are run by right-wing governments at daggers drawn with Brussels over their efforts to influence courts, media and other independent institutions.

The European Commission, the executive which will propose a detailed budget in May, has said it will aim to satisfy calls for “conditionality” that will link getting some EU funding to meeting treaty commitments on democratic standards such as properly functioning courts able to settle economic disputes.

But its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned on Friday against deepening “the rift between east and west” and some in the poorer nations see complaints about authoritarian tendencies as a convenient excuse to avoid paying in more to Brussels.

At around 140 billion euros ($170 billion) a year, the EU budget represents about 1 percent of economic output in the bloc or some 2 percent of public spending, but for all that it remains one of the bloodiest subjects of debate for members.

Focus on payments

The Commission has suggested that the next package should be increased by about 10 percent, but there was little sign Friday that the governments with cash are willing to pay that.

“When the UK leaves the EU, then that part of the budget should drop out,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who leads a group of hawks including Sweden, Denmark and Austria.

“In any case, we do not want our contribution to rise and we want modernization,” he added, saying that meant reconsidering the EU’s major spending on agriculture and regional cohesion in order to do more in defense, research and controlling migration.

On the other side, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said his priorities were “sufficient financing of cohesion policy” a good deal for businesses from the EU’s agricultural subsidies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there had been broad agreement that new priorities such as in defense, migration and research should get new funding and she called for a “debureaucratization” of traditional EU spending programs.

Summit chair Donald Tusk praised the 27 leaders — Prime Minister Theresa May was not invited as Britain will have left before the new budget round starts — for approaching the issue “with open minds, rather than red lines.” But despite them all wanting to speed up the process, a deal this year was unlikely.

Quick deal unlikely

Although all agree it would be good to avoid a repeat of the 11th-hour wrangling ahead of the 2014-20 package, many sounded doubtful of a quick deal even early next year.

“It could go on for ages,” Rutte said. He added that it would be “nice” to finish by the May 2019 EU election: “But that’s very tight.”

Among the touchiest subjects will be accounting for the mass arrival of asylum-seekers in recent years. Aggrieved that some eastern states refuse to take in mainly Muslim migrants, some in the west have suggested penalizing them via the EU budget.

Merkel has proposed that regions which are taking in and trying to integrate refugees should have that rewarded in the allocation of EU funding — a less obviously penal approach but one which she had to defend on Friday against criticism in the east. It was not meant as a threat, the chancellor insisted.

In other business at a summit which reached no formal legal conclusions, leaders broadly agreed on some issues relating to next year’s elections to the European Parliament and to the accompanying appointment of a new Commission for five years.

They pushed back against efforts, notably from lawmakers, to limit their choice of nominee to succeed Juncker to a candidate who leads one of the pan-EU parties in the May 2019 vote. They approved Parliament’s plan to reallocate some British seats and to cut others altogether and also, barring Hungary, agreed to a Macron proposal to launch “consultations” with their citizens this year on what they want from the EU.

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Незаконні МАФи «вбивають» малий бізнес у Києві – Кличко

Незаконні МАФи «вбивають» малий бізнес у Києві, бо їхні власники не дотримуються принципів чесної конкуренції, заявив мер столиці Віталій Кличко на своєму сайті.

«Якщо ти хочеш працювати офіційно, ти повинен платити за комунальні послуги, повинен платити працівникам офіційну заробітну платню, платити податки в бюджет нашого міста. Власники ж незаконних МАФів не платять. І наше завдання – навести з цим лад», – сказав Кличко.

За його словами, торік у столиці демонтували близько 1,5 тисячі незаконних МАФів. На черзі ще близько 1,6 тисяч таких тимчасових споруд у всіх районах Києва, додав Кличко.

Він повідомив, що навесні кияни і гості столиці побачать оновлені підземні переходи на Майдані та Хрещатику.

Останніми роками в столиці триває боротьба зі стихійним розміщенням торговельних кіосків у невідведених для цього місцях або за відсутності необхідної документації. Часто демонтаж комунальними службами так званих МАФів (малих архітектурних форм) закінчується сутичками й протестами.

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Int’l Donors Pledge More Than $500M for West Africa’s Sahel

The European Union and other international donors pledged more than half-a-billion dollars Friday to support a multi-national military operation in Africa’s vast Sahel region, which has fallen prey to smugglers, human traffickers and terrorists in recent years. 

Speaking after an international meeting on the Sahel in Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the pledges far exceeded initial expectations. She said they mirrored the strong international support for the so-called G-5 Sahel — a regional development and security initiative headed by five Sahelian nations.

Mogherini said the challenges facing Sahel spill well beyond the region, and demand a collective response — although G-5 countries must define their own strategy and priorities.

Along with African countries, Europe is concerned about the Sahel not only because it is a transit route for tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach its shores, but also because it fears it may become a launching pad for terrorist strikes at home.

Insecurity has deteriorated in the region since 2011, and extremist attacks occur regularly. There are also fears that Islamic State group fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq are heading there.

The United States has about 800 troops in Niger alone, while France has 4,000 forces in the region under its Barkhane anti-terrorism operation.

Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, noted the money raised will only cover the G-5 operations for this year. Continuous funding was needed, he said. And until security conditions improve in Libya, he added, it will be difficult to stabilize Sahel countries further south.

International support includes billions of dollars in development aid for the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in the next few weeks, the first development initiatives will be up and running, including in Mali’s restive central region of Mopti.

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Угорська сторона штучно затягує переговори щодо мовної статті закону «Про освіту» – Гриневич

«Консультації, доволі конструктивні, відбулися з представниками усіх меншин, окрім угорської, що відмовилась приїхати» – міністр

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Haiti Suspends Oxfam’s Operating Right Amid Misconduct Probe

Haiti has temporarily revoked Oxfam Great Britain’s right to operate in the Caribbean country after allegations of sexual misconduct by some of the charity’s staff there, Planning and External Cooperation Minister Aviol Fleurant said on Thursday.

The British aid organization has been rocked by allegations that staff, including a former Haiti country director, used prostitutes during a relief mission after a devastating earthquake hit the island nation in 2010.

Fleurant said the suspension was ordered due to “serious failings” by Oxfam Great Britain between 2010 and 2011, and that a definitive decision on its ability to operate in Haiti would be made in two months following a review of the evidence.

“If during the two month-long investigation I find out there is a link between the aid funds that Oxfam received on behalf of Haiti and the crime that has been committed, we will … declare Oxfam Great Britain persona non grata and they would have to leave the country without further delay,” Fleurant said.

Alain Lemithe, a lawyer representing Oxfam Great Britain, called the decision to suspend the charity “hasty and political”, saying that it was not based on clear evidence of wrongdoing.

“For example, they accused the organization of sexual abuse and use of minors,” Lemithe said. “Those are very serious allegations which until now have never been proven.”

In a separate statement, Fleurant accused Oxfam staff of committing acts of “sexual abuse” and exploitation.

The minister said Oxfam Great Britain had “deliberately omitted” to alert Haitian authorities about the alleged misconduct, thereby allowing perpetrators to escape justice.

Allegations of misconduct surfaced through media investigations and an internal Oxfam report. Fleurant said the revelations had besmirched the “honor and dignity” of Haiti’s people.

The suspension of the charity’s right to operate did not apply to Oxfam Canada, he said.

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Iran’s Rights Record Still Poor, Group Says, But Some Positive Signs

Amnesty International says its new global report on human rights shows Iran’s record reflected some positive developments, but mostly remained poor, and in some areas worsened in the past year.

The London-based group’s annual State of the World’s Human Rights report for 2017-2018, released Thursday, accused Iranian authorities of “heavily suppressing” people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious belief. It also said those authorities arrested and imprisoned “peaceful critics and others” after what it called “grossly unfair trials” before Islamic Revolutionary courts.

The Amnesty report said torture and other ill treatment of detainees “remained common and widespread” and were committed with impunity in Iran. It also said floggings, amputations and other cruel punishments “continued to be applied.” 

Iran’s government had no immediate response to the rights group’s allegations.

In an interview with VOA Persian’s NewsHour program Thursday, Amnesty’s London-based Iran researcher, Raha Bahreini, said the blame for Iran’s perceived mistreatment of detainees lies with a series of official bodies: police, prison guards, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the judicial system. 

These groups not only failed to uphold their responsibilities to ensure the safety of prisoners, Bahreini said, but in some cases made conditions for prisoners worse.

Iran has drawn particular scrutiny from rights activists in recent weeks for reporting three cases of Iranians committing suicide while in detention. Officials said two of those Iranians had been arrested during a wave of nationwide anti-government protests last month, while a third, Iranian-Canadian environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami, killed himself in Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this month.

Iranian authorities had arrested 63-year-old Seyed-Emami, managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Jan. 24, saying he was a suspect in a spying case. 

Iranian prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi told a local news agency that Seyed-Emami committed suicide after confessing to the charge and learning that others involved in the case had accused him of being a spy. North America-based friends and family of Seyed-Emami disputed those claims and called for further investigation.

Iran-based callers to the Thursday edition of VOA Persian’s Straight Talk program also universally rejected Iranian officials’ assertions that the three recently reported prison deaths were cases of suicide.

Several callers, who said they had been detained in Iran, said it is virtually impossible to commit suicide in an Iranian prison. 

One of those callers, who gave his name as Mohammad Hosein Heidari, said his prison uniform did not have a strap to hold up his pants. He said he initially thought the saggy pants were a form of psychological torture, but later realized that they were strapless to prevent prisoners from using straps to hang themselves. The man’s account of being in detention could not be independently verified.

Earlier this month, exiled Iranian rights activist Maryam Shafipour tweeted a similar point about steps taken by Iranian prison authorities to make it hard for prisoners to commit suicide. 

Shafipour, who was detained at Evin Prison in 2013 and released in 2015, said Iranian prison guards do not give any metal objects to prisoners, do not allow women to wear hijabs or head coverings inside their cells, and do not allow detainees to stay in a bathroom for more than 15 minutes.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not addressed the purported prisoner suicides directly. But he tried to strike a conciliatory tone on human rights in public remarks made during the anti-government protests of early January. He said the Iranian people have the right to peacefully criticize those in power, because the country “belongs to them.” He also said attention should be paid to demands of the people in the economic, cultural, social and security-related spheres.

Bahreini said one positive development in Amnesty’s annual report was its first mention of discussions between Iran and the European Union related to human rights. Iranian and EU officials who met in Tehran last November held what they called an “exploratory meeting” about renewing a bilateral human rights dialogue.

The Amnesty report criticized Iran for carrying out hundreds of executions in the past year after “unfair trials,” with at least two juvenile offenders confirmed by the group as among those executed. But Bahreini told VOA Persian that some executions were halted at the last minute because of additional information provided to authorities by family members and their lawyers. She said this was a sign that Iranian people are becoming better informed about human rights. 

“More people are demanding respect for the rights of women, workers and minorities, despite government threats and oppression,” Bahreini said.

Behrooz Samadbeygi and Shahram Shahseta of VOA’s Persian Service contributed to this report.

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Don’t Call Them ‘Garlic Girls’: South Korean Curlers Become Olympic Rock Stars

Forget Lindsey Vonn and Adam Rippon. The real rock stars of the Pyeongchang Olympics are a humble group of Korean curlers who have no idea they’ve become a global sensation.

They are known as the “Garlic Girls,” the South Korean women’s curling team with the fairy-tale story whose moniker reflects the locally famed garlic grown in their hometown. Never considered a medal contender coming into Pyeongchang, they have risen to No. 1 in the rankings, earning worldwide attention for their fierce talent and funny personalities.

And yet the Garlic Girls have been almost totally sheltered from the international frenzy both by personal choice — they switched off their phones during the games to block outside attention — and by a protective coach who is keenly aware that curling is as much a mental game as a physical one.

​Famous and they don’t know it

After a recent match, the women were quickly shuffled past waiting reporters, giving journalists apologetic smiles and greetings of “Anyonghaseyo!” (hello) before vanishing. None of them, says coach Kim Min-jung, are aware that they’ve become superstars.

“I’m sorry that I could not bring the athletes today, because I’m worried there will be too much pressure and burden on them,” Kim said. “Even the crowd is too interested in them.”

That interest is understandable. The Garlic Girls seem tailor-made for stardom.

The wildly skilled underdogs came into the Olympics ranked eighth in the world and went on to crush curling heavyweights including Canada and Sweden. They are cute and comical, referring to themselves by quirky nicknames such as “Pancake” and “Steak.”

Two teammates are sisters and all are longtime friends, creating irresistible chemistry on the ice. The team’s “skip,” or captain, has a steely gaze and funky, owl-eyed glasses that have become fodder for endless Internet memes.

Screaming fans

Many Koreans who have never seen a curling match have traveled to remote Gangneung to peek at their nation’s new darlings in person.

“I’m very proud of them,” said Lee Ji Sun, a 26-year-old who had never been inside a curling arena before Wednesday’s match. “They are showing we can do well even in new sport events.”

Every match featuring the team is packed with screaming, flag-fluttering Koreans who leap to their feet to cheer on the women’s stunningly precise shots. One fan in the crowd Wednesday waved what appeared to be a hand-drawn portrait of skip Kim Eun-jung with her trademark spectacles.

​Late to the game of curling

That curling has gained any prominence in Korea is surprising in itself. Korea didn’t even have a team in Olympic curling until the 2014 Sochi Games.

It took Koreans awhile to wake up to curling, largely because the country lacked sufficient facilities until recent years, Kim Young, a curling legend who started the Korean Curling Club in 1988, said by email. Now, he says, Korea has six dedicated curling arenas, and many schools have curling teams.

In 2006, South Korea’s first curling center was built in the rural town of Uiseong. Four of the five team members attended Uiseong Women’s High School, where they were on the school’s curling team. Uiseong’s reputation as the nation’s default curling capital slowly grew, and the curling center has hosted about 15 major domestic and international curling events.

Garlic and those nicknames

Still, until the women’s team began their surprise winning streak in Pyeongchang, Uiseong was better known for its prolific garlic production.

Koreans consider garlic a health food that boosts stamina. Seo Eun Ha, a 26-year-old Garlic Girls fan, believes garlic may have contributed to the team’s success. (She also credits the women’s good teamwork and strong relationships.)

Like many fans at Gangneung, Seo is particularly fond of the curlers’ unusual nicknames: Sunny, Steak, Pancake, Annie (a brand of yogurt) and ChoCho (a type of cookie).

“I think their nicknames go well with their lively images,” Seo said. “I like ‘Steak’ the most. It sounds so funny and unique.”

The nicknames started as a gag over breakfast one day, said Kim, the coach. The women were talking about how difficult it was for other countries’ athletes to pronounce their names at international competitions. All five team members and their coach also share the same surname — Kim, which is very common in Korea — making their names even more confounding for foreigners.

Kim Seon-yeong, who was eating a sunny-side-up fried egg, joked that she could go by the name “Sunny.” The other women loved the idea. They each opted to nickname themselves after the English words for their favorite breakfast foods, figuring that would be easier for others to grasp.

Though the women’s team is getting the most attention, Korean fans have been going wild for the men, too. After Wednesday’s men’s match, a player from the Korean team began throwing T-shirts into the crowd, which surged forward with outstretched arms.

Kim Heae Darm, a fan who leaped up and managed to snag a shirt sailing overhead, pressed it to her face and screamed with glee. She then turned to capturing the attention of Korean mixed doubles player Lee Ki-jeong, who scrawled his autograph in her notebook.

As she struggled to catch her breath, she explained her excitement by noting that Lee was strong, athletic and “very handsome.”

As for the success of the women’s team, Kim, the founder of the curling club, couldn’t be prouder. “They are heroes!” he said.

Yet the Garlic Girls do have one request: Maybe someone could come up with a nicer team name for them?

“We would prefer the name ‘Team Kim,’” Kim, the coach, said with a laugh. “Because although our hometown is Uiseong — which is related to garlic — we have no relationship with garlic at all.”

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Абраменко передав українські лижі до Олімпійського музею – НОК

Український олімпійський чемпіон з фристайлу Олександр Абраменко на прохання Олімпійського музею в Лозанні передав до його експозиції «золоту» лижу виробництва мукачівської фірми TISA зі своїм автографом. Про це повідомив Національний олімпійський комітет України на своїй сторінці у Facebook.

«Нова олімпійська перемога України знову увійшла до спортивної світової історії!» – вказано в повідомленні.

18 лютого Олександр Абраменко виграв золоту медаль в акробатичному фристайлі на Олімпіаді у Пхьончхані. Це перша олімпійська нагорода в історії українського фристайлу і третє «золото» зимових Олімпіад для України – слідом за фігуристкою-одиночницею Оксаною Баюл та жіночою збірною України в біатлонній естафеті.

Олександрові Абраменку 29 років. Він з Миколаєва. У 2016 році він виграв Кришталевий глобус Кубка світу в лижній акробатиці. Минулий сезон Абраменко пропустив через травму. В цьому сезоні українець посів друге місце на етапі Кубка світу в Лейк-Плесіді і в загальному заліку Кубка світу йде на шрстому місці.

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