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Pretty much been disastrous here for the Americans, I. Well, it's very different than it was last year in Atlanta. Their performance tonight is not about medals, but about regaining some respect. Oh, she missed a connection right there. Why would you talk about Bill? This is tough to watch. High hopes for the American team, not only here at the world's, but, of course, next year's Olympics and the United States, you have to say it, a disappointing sixth.
This is episode five.
The Karoly way. I remember overhearing the coaches talking about us and how awful we were, if you're not winning, you're losing and you're a piece of shit, basically.
That's how they made you feel.
And Sulin was a gymnast on the 1999 U.S. World Championship team, a team that finished six of six teams in the final.
We were the worst national team they had ever had and we were the biggest disappointment.
Very disappointing effort by the U.S. They seem to lack intensity and focus. In the three short years since Bela and Marta Karalee had retired, USA Gymnastics had gone from a team gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games to mediocrity on the world stage.
This was bad news for a federation that depended on sponsors and no single event brought in sponsorship money like the Olympics.
With the next Olympics just 10 months away, New USA Gymnastics president Bob Calabrese turned to the most recognizable name in gymnastics, Bela Karoly. After the world championships, cholera's went to the ranch and said, OK, what will it take for you to do this? Nancy Palmer is a columnist for USA Today. She's covered gymnastics for more than twenty years. There was a belief that if anybody could do anything, it was going to be ballet. Look at what he had already done in the past.
Bob Colora, he drew Bella out of retirement in November 1999 with a newly created position national team coordinator. In this role, Bella would design the overall training program, oversee team preparation heading into the Sydney Games and play a key role in selecting the final team. His goal? Get the U.S. back into medal contention at the Olympic Games. I remember talking to Don Peters. Don Peters was probably Bellow's original rival and they had never really patch things up, he said.
Actually, he said, I signed off on this wholeheartedly.
Don Peters was banned from USA Gymnastics for Life in 2011 following sexual abuse allegations.
But in 1999, he was still one of the most prominent coaches in the sport. And he and the other elite coaches realized that something was wrong with the way they were training the national team, he said.
I think this is a good idea. And I kind of looked at him and he said, we need somebody who is strong enough to get the coaches to listen to.
And he said what we've been doing isn't working and what these other countries obviously work for the Russians and the Romanians and the Chinese. And maybe if we can do that, but give it an American spin, then we can have sustained success.
USA Gymnastics was acknowledging the need to take the old every gym for itself approach to elite gymnastics and consolidated under Bella Karoly. After almost 20 years in the United States, Bella finally had control over a semi centralized system. Bella's first move as national team coordinator bring everyone to Texas.
He had the ranch. So there was a central place that that everybody could come to. I mean, Granite's in the middle of nowhere, but you had the gym space. You had the cabins where his summer camp stayed. So you had the facilities to make it happen.
Now, all roads to the Olympics ran through the Karoly ranch. The epicenter of where Olympic athletes were being made and. To be able to be there was is almost like a dream come true, Olympic hopeful Tasha Schweikart received her first invitation to the ranch as a 12 year old.
The ranch was as legendary as the Karalis gymnast like Tasha and Jamie Daneshvar were thrilled to see it in person for the first time. It was like, I get to be here. I must be pretty good because I get to meet Bela and Marta. They train champions. I was just in awe that I was even in the same room with them. In January 2000, Tausche, Jamie and the rest of the top two dozen or so U.S. gymnasts traveled to the Karoly ranch with their personal coaches for the first of what would become monthly mandatory training camps.
They decided we needed those camps a little. Bekerman was a member of the national team competing for a shot at the 2000 Olympics. I understood that part, that part I was on board with when it happened. They decided we need to do like a national team training thing and do it more regularly. And I liked that, you know, because I liked the people I was competing with. We knew each other for years. And it's kind of cool to see more often, you know, and to work out with them and set up our game together.
You know, I liked that Alissa saw the potential upside to this new experiment and she was prepared to put in the work, ready to learn from the fabled Bella Karoly. That was like a big bear, like a big animal is the best way I can describe him. Lots of gestures and facial expressions and very his even his vocal tones were very expressive. He was like an actor, almost cartoonish below, you were made the national team coordinator just before the end of 1999.
Did you leave enough time for you to put a mark on this to be successful in the year 2000? Is there enough time? Time is short, yes. But I don't believe that I'm going to be the most important mentor. The understanding of the girls they desired, they fought for. They got to put into the final preparation stage that's going to matter the most.
Bella's focus had always been repetition and conditioning. And with such a tight schedule, he leaned on that more than ever.
It pretty much was boot camp, like it was strenuous. Like boot camp isn't easy.
No one wants to do boot camp camp for Jeanette and to Linda and her teammates began the same way each day with Bella's grueling conditioning sessions, 40 minutes to an hour of running around a 40 square foot spring floor, followed by rope climbs using your arms. Only a series of ten straddle press handstands, ten cast handstands on Barres 10 Pike presses on low beam an ab exercise after ab exercise after AB exercise.
It was this crazy, ridiculous warm up that he would put us through and I remember being exhausted. I'm like, what is happening?
And that was just the start of two four hour training sessions each day. The USA Gymnastics, the Federation, they were all there. They were all watching every turn we took and that we were under a microscope. The point of practice is to practice. That's where gymnasts make mistakes. That's where they learn during Bela's camps. Even those mistakes in practice were being watched and judged by the people who held all the power when it came to their future in the sport.
And you would see a group of powers that be of people running USA gymnastics all huddle in a corner, talk. It was a mind. Trying to find a nicer word than the one I want to use, it was a mindfuck few people got inside the gymnast's heads more than Bela and Marta.
You know, they just engrain that Romanian diva programmed mind into the girls and that's what they were doing with us. Here's how you're going to behave and think and act. And you're you're just expendable. You're lucky to be here. They were very good at, you know, the psychological warfare of the sport. Gymnastics is 90 percent mental.
Remember, Bela always line us up together, always by your side. Look forward like a little soldier. When you're in lineup, you stand straight and tall, like a little soldier and make eye contact. I felt motivated by fear. I didn't want to mess up in front of anybody on the national stuff, my dream of being Olympian was in their hands. At the end of the first camp, Bella cut the pool of gymnasts by half, then we come back.
A month later and there would be less people, so to me explain it like Survivor and. Sometimes you knew why people were being cut and sometimes they were just cut. So. Every time you slept in the gym, you had to be on your A game, Tarsha and Janette made that first cut. So did Jamie and Alissa after that first camp.
People really took a psychological turn for the worse. People started dropping like flies physically, but also psychologically. We would cry on our way to the airport to go to the ranch after that.
And just remember it like. Riding the bus to get to the ranch and being sick to my stomach, just feeling like I had to be so perfect. I mean, not even inside the gym, but outside the gym as well, like how I stood, how I wore my hair, what I ate, some people, you know, in sports, they'll say, if I say jump, you say how high?
You know, gymnastics. If I say jump, you just jump. You don't ask anything. You ask how high you're being insubordinate. S gymnastics, I was stripped of choice, I was told what to eat, what to wear, how to think, don't speak. They would check our bags for food and it just I just remember this gradual transition.
And. Like loving gymnastics so much to hating it to this kind of inner conflict of this love hate relationship with it. No aspect of the gymnast lives was more heavily scrutinized than what they ate Jamie, Alissa, Jenette Tarsha every single gymnast at those camps was constantly aware of the pressure to look and eat a certain way. He would say, if you want to compete like a tiger, you eat like a tiger. If you want to compete like a cow, you eat like a cow.
The only thing I ever remember really telling me was that my butt was too fat and I needed to lose that. He was in the middle of the floor and I was walking to another event. He said something to me and then grabbed my butt and said, You need to use those. I probably said, Yes, sir, and keep on walking and then gone on a diet. As soon as I got home, we were all sitting around after a practice and stood up a gymnast who was very, very thin at the time and said, I want all of you guys to look like her.
She had a thigh gap. I remember her standing there and you could see through her thighs when she did gymnastics. She had very thin lines. They always thought my lines weren't hers straight. And, you know, my gymnastics wasn't as pretty because an Upside-Down Handstand should look like a straight line. Well, my line would be there'd be a little curve or my buddies and there might be a little curve where my chest is. So my straight line naturally is just very different from some of my white teammates straight lines.
And so I internalized that. And I'm like, gosh, like, you know, I guess I'm just not good enough. I wish I could go back in time and say, hey, look, 15 year old Tasha, you are half African-American. You have different genetics. You will never have a thigh gap. And that's OK. We all had unhealthy relationships with food. I started thinking about what I was eating, like all the time. Everyone was trying to lose weight.
Everybody everyone's fat, like we're all in shape somehow. We're the national team, United States of America, but we're all in shape. Like it was just insane. No being afraid to eat in front of anybody at the ranch like they were watching us eat. Month after month, the national team members returned to the ranch roughly two hours north of Houston, isolated in the middle of a national forest like you have kids away from their family.
For almost a week and the only communication they have is a payphone, there was a single payphone that all of the gymnasts and coaches had to share, no cell phone reception, at least at the time there wasn't none.
OK, I'm talking none. You would walk around just in the time we had the Nokia phones and my dad had given me this little antenna thing like help, like, you know, boost the the signal. Nothing.
I remember getting a prepaid calling card and I remember checking in with, you know, my mom or my dad, like, once or twice while I was there. And it was very quick. And so there wasn't much contact with, you know, family or friends at all.
If we didn't have access to that outside world, we would be more focused. I think it was just complete control. When you're at home, you can go home to people that really love you and care about you. When you're there, you have nobody that you feel like is on your side. The gymnast's had no one to confide in. They saw their coaches and the Karalis as watchdogs. They knew they had to be very careful about what they said.
They're listening. You get overheard. That's it.
One night we're sitting in our cabin in our living space talking about how fun college is going to be.
We were overheard, I, you know, the next day in practice at the ranch, you know, my my coach walks up to me. He says, well, we could hear you through the walls.
And you were talking about being wild, you know, like being unruly or something. It was like we were in trouble or I was in trouble by my coach because they were we were discussing, I don't know, freedom.
Karalis did not tolerate anything they considered a distraction in their gym, but they would say is that if we were socializing or talking, that we weren't focused. You're not there to hang out.
You're not there to be friendly. You're there to train and to prove yourself. And it's a trial every single day. With long, grueling days, early curfews and a no talking in the gym policy, the gymnast kept their feelings to themselves. They said nothing to each other about their fears or concerns or injuries. Instead, they put their heads down and concentrated the Sydney games were just around the corner. One year ago, USA Gymnastics was in disarray, but recent events have created momentum and belief.
You are looking at the rebirth of. Over two nights in August 2000, the Sydney hopefuls competed at the Olympic trials in Boston.
Do these Olympic trials determine who will represent the United States? Well, sort of.
Bela Karoly had been complaining about the Olympic selection process for as long as he had been coaching in the United States.
He didn't believe in simply taking the top finishers from trials. He thought that approach put the U.S. at a disadvantage.
This is straight out of the Book of Romania Eastern Bloc gymnastics coaching.
Houston Chronicle writer John Lopez had frequently listened to Bela lay out his plan for USA Gymnastics.
He would always be a bigger advocate of the coach.
Should sort of appoint, you know, who goes to the Olympics rather than a trials where anything could happen and a really talented gymnast could maybe be left out.
He was more of an advocate of a combination of what the coaches say and what they do in that Olympic trials.
As national team coordinator, Bela named himself the head of a four person committee that would consider scores from both national championships and Olympic trials and then select the six person team.
The athletes and the coaches don't know exactly what it's going to take to make it to the Olympic Games. Imagine playing a game and not knowing the rules.
The only thing that did seem clear, Bella Karoly, was making the rules.
And this process would be more subjective than ever before.
This literally is right there, 20 feet away, staring at it over two days of competition. The central question was, what does Bela Coralee think?
I just walked over and checked in with Bela Karoly. I said, any thoughts so far about the maybe he said it's too early to say anything. Here he is. Sometimes you get the feeling he's trying to put a little bit more pressure on certain athletes because he feels they need it.
It only matters what Marta Arbella thinks. 1984 Olympian Traci Talavera was on the selection committee. So too bad if the kid just did the best routine ever or that she had three falls. That's not the point.
What is Marter Bella going to think this thing is going to come down to Bella believe can do the job at the Olympic Games under all of that pressure.
They wanted the team that would be most consistent and who did what they wanted the most, not just the athletes. It was more the coaches that surrounded those athletes and who played their game. It's your worst nightmare come true. You know, you train your whole life and they change all the rules on you. And suddenly it's not about scoring well, it's about being liked. I mean, it was pretty much Bela and Marta who created the team. And so they said who they wanted and everyone followed suit.
But a costly low score on the balance beam has cost Jeimy Dancer dearly. She has fallen down to six position behind Vanessa Adler. Big time pressure now on Alissa Beckerman to remember she's living in bubble land here at these Olympic trials. Harris. Janette Cantillon, she just had a disaster on the balance beam. Jeanette basically is out of this competition, out of the running. I mean, there never was any hope. Carolynn ominously wearing black tonight, some difficult choice.
And now Bella Karoly, Tracy Talavera, Shari Night Hunter and Marilyn Cross will go into a back room here at the Fleet Center. When they come out, hearts will be broken and dreams will be fulfilled. All of this played out on television, while the nearly 20000 fans at the Fleet Center in Boston waited. Tracy had gone into the process with some pessimism, but was ultimately hopeful it could be fair. Then she got in the actual room with Bella.
He took his sheet of paper. And I wish to God I still had this.
But he took one girl, circled her name, took an arrow, drew it up to in the top and took the girl who was in the top, asked her name out and wrote not going and hand it to me.
And he said, This will be the team.
Here comes the color. I see the CEO of USA Gymnastics, man, all the fortune is going to change here. Cameras followed as Bob Colora entered the backstage room where the gymnasts were waiting with their coaches and read the list of names. And South Bend dancer Dominique Dawes puts Malony a wig and Morgan White the it is a list of Bekerman when they announce the team.
I was proud, proud that all the hard work and all those years and everything I went through, like maybe maybe it was all worth it.
Jamie made the team and Alyssa was named as the alternate. Tasha and Jeannette didn't hear their names called. I thought I was done, I thought that, you know, this is where where the buck stops, but it was a great it was a great run. I kind of knew that it wasn't going to happen, but there was nothing I could do about it. It's like everything in your life is gone and then you question why you even did it to yourself in the first place.
Like, why did I give up my entire childhood for this one moment where you can make one mistake and it all goes away. The gymnasts who hadn't been chosen waited backstage while the team was welcomed onto the floor of the Fleet Center to a screaming audience. No one has selected his team, is it possible that this could be Sidneys Super six, Bellus savored the moment after just 10 months on the job, he had given American fans what they wanted heading into Sydney, something to believe in.
This team combines the best of their country. It's a powerful team and I believe they're going to be, again, Olympic medal contenders.
Days later, USA Gymnastics called 15 year old Tausche Schweickart, and we get a call that they want to travel.
Need to Sydney as a second alternate. Great, I'm I got a free trip to Sydney, I get to train alongside the Olympic team and my idols, Natasha, Jamie and Alissa had little time to celebrate for the next month.
I had an Olympic trials every single day. We went for about a two and a half month period without a single day off guard. Day off was the flight to Sydney.
But I remember being instructed to do a plane workout.
So we worked out in the aisle of the plane, flew 15 hours, dropped our bags off, you know, and went right back to the gym. A record one hundred ninety nine nations. More than 10000 athletes at the Olympic Games have come down on you, and Sydney has been ready and waiting quite some time. Welcome to the first Olympic Games of the new millennium.
Opening ceremonies are happening and they don't allow us to go. So everybody's crying in the main room of this den where they have a tiny TV to watch the opening ceremonies. And the girls are sitting there, the team, they're all like tears in her eyes because they can't be there. They can't enjoy the Olympics.
Bela Carolynn, USA Gymnastics brought the same discipline they'd employed at the ranch with them to Sydney. While most athletes stayed at the Olympic Village, the U.S. women's gymnastics team stayed at a local women's college 20 minutes outside the city center.
The only way I can explain this place is like it was kind of like prison, no phone calls, no unsupervised visits from family.
And even at the most festive sporting event in the world, no interacting with other athletes. It was like they set up the ranch in Sydney for us, Team USA arrived in Sydney as underdogs, but Bella had been charged with getting them back on the medal stand so we wouldn't relent on the training and the pressure. We had double taxes every day, like every day was like a competition in the morning and a competition at night, crazy. We couldn't leave the grounds, we couldn't even walk to a meal to the kitchen by ourselves because they didn't want us to eat the food, even though they weren't feeding us enough food.
The chefs put out little bowls filled with raisins, and the other one was filled with some sort of like a neutral green granola bar. So I grab one of each snack to take back to my room.
I remember walking out and Marta coming up to me and taking the raisins and taking the nutrition bar out of my hand, saying to me that we weren't going to eat these things because lighter women fly higher.
She'd have you ever had food, like, literally taken out of your hand when you were starving on at least four occasions in Sydney? I cried myself to sleep because I was hungry. I never. Cried myself to sleep about food in my entire life, but we're at the Olympic Games and I am like physically starving. A few days before the competition started, one of Bela's team members, Morgan White, withdrew with a broken foot that meant Allissa or Tarsha would get a chance to compete at the Olympics.
We lined up for four practice and Bella got impatient. And he said, OK, these unfortunate Morgan injured, but we must continue and the you are in Bekerman, you're out, OK? To the right. Arch and I turn to the right and warmed us up. If you were with us for the Olympic trials and you're watching Tosha Schweickart in the Olympics, you have to be surprised because her name was not one that was mentioned that night in Boston.
No, she was added by Bela Karoly as a second alternate after that. And since day one in speaking with Bella about who he thought would be on that team way back in January, Tasha Schweigert name was always near the top of his list.
Tasha had finished behind Elyssa at the Olympic trials, but this was exactly what Bella had argued all along, that his feeling about a particular gymnast, what he believed she was capable of, was a better guiding principle than scores alone.
And it's amazing to think that he is going to rely on a 15 year old, Tosches Schweigert, who has never been in a big time event like the World Championships or the Olympic Games. She is going to set the tone for this team. That's a big position to be in inside the Sydney Superdome with the whole world watching.
Tasha Schweikert made her Olympic debut with just the dismount left. I'd have to say that this is the kind of performance that Bella was looking for to start off this team's great start.
Tasha Schweiker gets Team USA going big, it's made of our lives for the better part of the past year, Bela Karoly and USA Gymnastics had put these young athletes under as much pressure as they could in order to prepare them for the Olympic stage. This was the chance for Bella to prove it had been worth it, as national team coordinator Bella Karoly will watch from the seats.
And so we won't see that fabulous interaction as we have with Kerri Strug or Mary Lou Retton. Not this time. Not in Sydney.
In fact, any time the TV cameras pan to Bella, he was sitting in the stands looking visibly unhappy.
Bella Karoly has been watching everything from up on high. Bella, he looks a little bit frustrated, probably wishes he was on the floor, even though if he was couldn't really do all that much about that one.
The U.S. women struggled on the first day after Tosh's promising start. It was all downhill. They barely nabbed the last spot in the 16 final. So Bella tried to do at Bella did best.
The only way he was allowed to do one thing Bella Karoly did, he gave the American women a sort of rah rah, you represent the United States speech in the warm up gym. And they came in with a totally different persona, as you saw. And this is a much better United States team already than it was the other night, but it was too little, too late.
The U.S. team would have needed a near perfect meet to bump Russia, Romania or China off the medal stand.
The Super Dome resembling something of a hospital ward. About now, ice bags and medics in demand.
It's been a struggle for the U.S. and it seemed like the gymnasts and their bodies were crumbling under the pressure.
They are a team beset with problems, problems, problems. She was way off, not even a hope of saving that skill. The five right now for the United States is not a good one.
The team finished in fourth place with no individual medals, but public expectations have been ramped up by the success of the Magnificent Seven four years before, and everyone wanted someone to blame. We were just trashed on our whole team. I felt like I had let my country down. They made us feel like we let our country down, even thula trashed us like the second we didn't give him what he wanted.
We didn't meddle. He complained, I remember Ella being extremely disappointed that we got fourth, we were the most disappointing people to him ever that he's ever coached, we were embarrassing. Ella told newspaper reporters that this group of athletes didn't want it as badly as the 96 team, that they didn't have the same work ethic. They blamed their personal coaches. He complained about not being allowed on the floor as national team coordinator, where he believed his theatrics would have helped.
Bella takes credit when everyone does well, but when we don't do well, then the blames on us.
In her own interview after the competition, Jaimee Dancer fired back at Bella didn't really give a shit anymore. Jamie's elite gymnastics career was over. She was headed to UCLA in the fall. She had nothing to lose.
The gymnastics world believed that Bela and Marta were the best and that this is the way and that they knew what they were doing and nobody had reason to really believe what I was saying. I'm just so glad to be. Done with those people. For the first time since 1976, U.S. women's gymnastics had failed to medal at the Olympics, there was too much pride and too much sponsorship money at stake for USA Gymnastics to do nothing. So during a national team camp, they held a meeting at the Karalee Ranch.
In attendance were the coaches of every national team member, the Olympic staff, USA, big wigs and of course, the national team coordinator himself.
And then Bella comes in saying, Oh, at the Olympics, it was the coach's fault.
Coach Rita Brown couldn't believe what she was hearing.
The coaches, they couldn't get along. They wouldn't listen. They wouldn't do what I was saying, though. They they that's all their fault. Nobody's saying anything. I let him finish. And then I raised my hand and I stood up and I don't know why I did this. It was pretty gutsy. And I said, Bella, how dare you do that? Everybody relied on your leadership, your knowledge and your experience. The performances are based on how we prepared those kids.
That's you. That's on you. Bella Karoly had shown USA gymnastics that winning was possible in the first place. He'd given them their first taste of gold, but when they needed him to win the most, he hadn't brought home medals, just excuses. He left the organization with no choice but to look for a replacement. He was in charge when you're in charge, it comes down on you. If you or someone you know has been subjected to sexual assault or abuse and you would like more information or support, these hotlines can help Rheins 24/7.
Confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline, one 800 six five six four six seven three or Childhelp one 800 four two two four four five three. Thirty four thirty podcasts are presented by Volvo at Volvo. Nothing is more important than protecting people both inside the car and out. The Volvo 40 SUV with city safety technology helps keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists safe by keeping an eye out and automatically applies the brakes to help avoid a collision wherever you go somewhere safely explore exclusive offers on the C40 during the Volvo summer safely saving's event.
Visit Volvo cars dotcom. Slash us to learn more. Thirty four thirty podcasts are brought to you by Audible We're all fatigue from screens, and listening is a great way to occupy the mind while giving the eyes a much needed break with audible. You can do just that from podcast. A guided wellness programs to A-list comedy. Audible has what you need when you need it. Visit audible dotcom slash 30 for 30 or text thirty four. Thirty to five hundred five hundred.
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Coming up on the next episode of Heavy Metals, they wanted to make it very clear that Bella was out and Marta was in our main goal to bring back the medal contender situation. You can trust Marta to train the best gymnasts in the world was hard landing, hard landing, hard landing, hard landing. And that breaks kids. You can't trust Marta to care about those gymnasts as human beings.
You can hear the impact. And you're looking at this kid and thinking, what's it doing to her hips? Her back, her knees.
Walker County number one. What's the emergency? I'm sorry. I don't want to waste on. Heavy metals was reported by me, Alissa Rolnik and Bonnie Ford, producers Andrew Mambo and Meredith Hoddinott, senior producer Julia Lourie Henderson, executive producers Libby Gaist and Aaron Liden, mix engineering and sound design by Matraca Boully, production management and Licensing, Louisiana's Cath Sankei and Jennifer Thorp, production assistants Riley Bloom, Gus Navarro, Samantha Dowd and Trevor Guille. Original music by Ian Costs, executive producers for ESPN Commercial Rob King and Alison Overholt.
This podcast was developed by Jenna Anthony and Adam Newhouse with help from Jodie Aragon, additional production support from Amy Van Dewson and Eve Wolf archival producer Julianna Branom. John M. Berardino provided fact checking. Terry Langford did legal research, ESPN Audio, Tom Ricks, Megan Judge John Athenee and Ryan Granter special thanks to Jenna Jahnavi and Elaine Tang, Jolene Van Vuit and the production teams at ESPN, L.A. and ESPN New York. This season of 30 for 30 podcast was produced in association with ESPN W.