Netflix’s ‘Athlete A’ Offers A Heartbreaking Look Into USA Gymnastics’ History Of Child Abuse

And how an Olympic-bound gymnast became known as 'Athlete A'

As every fourth year rolls around, the Olympics becomes one of the most televised events watched around the world. In particular, gymnastics has taken the globe by storm. From bars to beam, many are infatuated with watching their performances, purely to see which gymnast will nail their floor routine.

However in 2018, all of that changed forever. Upon the discovery of a two-decade long sexual abuse scandal, that found USA Gymnastics ‘doctor’ Larry Nassar charged with assaulting approximately 500 underage girls under his care, Netflix’s Athlete A was born.

While Nassar’s crimes are the premise behind the documentary, Athlete A also uncovers the sinister wrongdoings of Steve Penny, ex-USA Gymnastics President, who turned a blind eye to the abuse in order to protect the brand and earn money.

To Penny, coaches Márta and Béla Károlyi, and even the Michigan State University President, the young gymnasts were simply machines built to win medals and secure sponsorship deals, no matter what abuse they suffered behind the scenes. 

Maggie Nichols

Throughout the documentary, we are introduced to the story of young gymnast Maggie Nichols. A former elite gymnast, described by five-time Olympic gold medalist and friend Simone Biles as “the Michael Jordan of college gymnastics,” Nichols was controversially left off the 2016 Olympic team, after she was the first to report the sexual abuse she endured by Larry Nassar at age 15, leaving her known as ‘Athlete A’. And unfortunately, she was far from the first.

Athlete A
(Credit: Netflix)

Athlete A follows the illicit mental grooming by the institution onto children. Young gymnasts were moved to an isolated training camp in Texas away from their families, where they were slapped if they fell short of perfection, and called “pigs” if they gained weight. The line between training and child abuse was so indistinguishable, that many gymnasts were unable to tell what was inappropriate and what was necessary to become an Olympian.

And while the sexual abuse involving Larry Nassar is now well-known, Athlete A provides survivors and their parents the opportunity to share their stories in excruciating detail and showcases the lengths USA Gymnastics went to cover it up.

From befriending the FBI to dismissing worthy athletes who complained at Olympic selections, it’s clear that there was knowledge of the abuse, yet nothing was done, because protecting their wholesome image was far more important to them.

Athlete A is now available for streaming on Netflix

Interested? Watch the heartbreaking trailer below.

If you or someone you know is affected by this story, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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