Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lucky 13: Interview with Justin Spring

This week's episode of Gymcastic (our totally lucky 13th!) features Justin Spring, 2008 Olympic silver medalist and head coach of NCAA champs, the University of Illinois. So it seems like he's made the transition from athlete to adult professional with seeming ease.

But speaking of the transition from athlete to something else, we also briefly discuss the situation--which thus far been reported in the tabloids--of former Romanian gymnast Florica Leonida, who was a member of the 2003 World Championship team and is now reportedly working as a prostitute in Germany (where sex work legal, by the way). Needless to say, this has caused quite the uproar in Romania and among fans.

When I learned of this story, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a Romanian journalist I befriended at a hostel while traveling in Austria. Like any gym nerd, when she told me where she was from, I immediately asked her about gymnastics, which is what I associate with her country. (Well, that and Ceausescu infecting babies with AIDS.) She rolled her eyes yet indulged me in a little gymnastics discussion. She told me that the gymnasts are often drawn from lower socioeconomic classes and aren't educated properly--many of them, she noted, can't speak English or a second language, which (if I'm to judge from her statements) is perhaps important for advancement or at least somewhat "normal" amongst the more educated classes. If this is true, then it would seem that after a gymnast's career is over--or if it ends without really getting off the ground--there is limited opportunity for some of these ex-athletes.

Which brings us to Leonida. There are many reasons to get involved in sex work but lack of options is certainly one of them. If this is true, perhaps a youth spent in high level athletics has harmed their future opportunities, especially if they don't end up winning gold medals and earning a lifelong pension/stipend. It's definitely something that we, as fans of the sport, should think about when we're watching the gymnasts compete. 

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