In June of 2022, there occurred probably the most encouraging sign yet since the dark days of the Nassar/Penny/Károlyi regime that indicates USA Gymnastics is truly attempting to transform the organization’s governance and the the management of the US national elite program to include the interests and perspective of the athletes themselves. That sign was when Alicia Sacramone Quinn and Chellsie Memmel were appointed to top USAG leadership positions. Memmel, 2008 Olympian and former world champion, was appointed USAG’s Technical Lead of the women’s high performance program, while teammate and captain of that 2008 Beijing Olympic team Sacramone Quinn was named the USAG Women’s Program Strategic Lead. Joined by current coach of USAG’s Developmental Program Dan Baker, the three form a managing triumvirate to replace the single executive model, a role previously filled by High-Performance Director Tom Forster until his resignation in late 2021.
Quinn and Memmel came up through the old system, a medal-producing meat grinder in many respects run by the Károlyis—Mártá as national Team Coordinator since the Nixon Administration (or so it seems), with Béla lurking just behind, forced into an unofficial role because of his self-promoting antics and widely documenteded mistreatment of athletes, still ever-present at The Ranch. The two Romanians teamed with former President and CEO Steve Penny, a self-dealing autocrat who deliberately ignored and even actively supressed numerous complaints from gymnasts who had been sexually abused by Dr. Larry Nassar, whose main jobs seems to have been to clear injured gymnasts for competition and to get them alone so he could violate them in name of his fake “therapeutic massage.” It is abundantly clear that Penny & the Károlyis considered gold medals to be more important than the health, safety and well-being of the athletes who were out there winning those medals, for the greater glory of Team USA. Quinn and Memmel endured that environment and seem to have survived pretty much in one piece, both having helped to establish Team USA’s reputation and record as the dominant force internationally, a position cemented by the arrival of gymnast-from-outer-space Simone Biles a few years after them.
Memmel retired in 2012 but staged an amazing comeback in 2020, competing in the US National Championsip at the age of 32. Even if one only considers her prior achievements and her contribution to the sport in the US, Memmel deserved to be petitioned to the 2021 Olympic Trials, ahead of some of the also rans with no realistic chance of making the team (the poobahs probably only wanted a good look at the greener gymnasts to see how they performed under pressure, too impatient to wait for City of Jesolo 2022). In denying Memmel’s petition, USAG foolishly missed a dynamite opportunity for a heartwarming, inspirational story during the trials of Chellsie’s astounding comeback, providing some really great PR at a time when the sport could have used every little bit of good coverage it could get (& as a bonus, helping to chip away a little at the negative image of women’s gymnastics as a sport dominated entirely by prepubescent teens). Nevertheless, Memmel’s contribution in this new leadership position will surely be of more profound & lasting value than her appearance at Trials would have been.
Sacramone Quinn has been a first-rate commentator for the ESPN networks’ NCAA gymnastics coverage, and in some ways is my favorite among the excellent stable of former elite stars the network employs as analysts (Cathy Johnson Clarke is probably best overall, Bridget Sloan and Amanda Borden are more than adequate, but personally I like Alicia because she most frequently names the skills each competitor performs, rather than perpetual meaningless, condescending generics such as “release move” and “flight series.” The others are generally good on that aspect, as well, but then again, after two decades of Al Trautwig (or his what’s-his-name replacement), Tim Daggett and Elfi Liukin, anything looks good (Green/Yellow/Red routines? Are you kidding me?).
But I digress. Suffice to say that I was very pleased two weeks ago when I saw Sacramone Quinn still teamed up with John Roethlisberger for the first weekend of the 2023 NCAA season, because the one negative side of Alicia’s USAG appointment for me was that her new job would take her away from broadcasting. What a relief that it didn’t. Wouldn’t it be great if ABC/ESPN had the rights to the Olympics & Worlds? Oh, well, one can dream, can’t he?
Congratulations Alicia & Chellsie, and bravo to USAG for making such a unexpectedly smart decision.