Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The leadership of Martha Karolyi

Today on Slate I have an article questioning the wisdom and leadership of Martha Karolyi.

I penned this critique on Thursday after I awoke to the news of Alicia Sacramone's ruptured Achilles tendon and  Aly Raisman's minor ankle injury. This prompted me to start mentally composing an essay about the U.S. selection procedure, which I think is incredibly counterproductive in that our top (often older) gymnasts are sidelined with injuries before the competitions begin.

This was a conversation I've online with several other gymnastics fans and the outcry at Sacramone's injury seems to indicate that many others share this view. Even if Sacramone's injury has absolutely nothing to do with the multiple training camps, there is a sense that many of the injuries have a lot to do with Karolyi's methods.

As I watched the American girls compete and win yesterday in such spectacular fashion, it suddenly struck me -- perhaps not by design (since no one, certainly not Karolyi, wanted Alicia to get hurt), Martha got the only team that could train the way she wants them to. With the exception of Raisman, who was the veteran at 17, the other five girls were 16 and younger. This means that they are still young enough and not so beat up as to be able to withstand her methods. This does not bode well for older athletes next year.

In this video, Mike Canales, an orthopedic surgeon, husband to 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu and a former high level gymnast himself, asks Martha about the rash of injuries that have befallen the Americans. (This particular question comes at 9:20 in the video but watch the earlier parts if you want to see Moceanu and Canales speak to the American and foreign gymnasts. Imagine that NBC!)

When asked whether these injuries will change the manner in which the team is selected, Karolyi said no and then added, "It looks like the younger generation is breaking in." She then went on to list many young seniors or juniors who will eligible for next year, which sort of confirms my earlier suspicions.

As Canales noted at the end -- out with the old, in with the new.

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