The death of a gymnast was supposed to be a wake-up call. What took so long?


After Henrich’s death, many media outlets seemed to blame him for succumbing to his illness. They attributed his eating disorder to the judge’s comment alone or a lack of common sense on his part: ‘Irrational obsession consumed his talent, his life,’ reads a headline from The Associated Press. from 1994. The Los Angeles Times said she “gave in” to anorexia and that “no one could save Henrich” because she “couldn’t save herself”.

The idea that Henrich might have lived had she been stronger, experts say, is unscientific and harmful.

“She hated it as much as everyone else,” said Moreno, her fiancé. “She didn’t want to be like that, and that was the hardest and most tragic part of watching it.”

In 1993, Henrich explained to a reporter for her hometown newspaper, The Examiner, that she had experienced the disease as a malevolent force separate from who she was and wanted to be.

“I feel like there’s a beast inside of me, like a monster,” she said. “It smells bad.”

In the shock following Henrich’s death, many broadcasters stopped listing gymnasts’ weights in television chyrons, and the American Gymnastics Federation – the sport’s governing body, now known as the USA Gymnastics – hired Thies Marshall to create a wellness program for athletes.

Designed with experts and other former gymnasts, it included a referral network for the treatment of eating disorders; a program for coaches covering nutrition, biomechanics, sports medicine and sports psychology; and a mentorship system to pair national team members with former members who could serve as confidants.

But USA Gymnastics cut funding for the program around 2000, and the system regressed. Martha Karolyi – the wife of Bela Karolyi, who in journalist Joan Ryan’s 1995 book “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes” had been publicly accused of abusive training methods – was named team coordinator women’s national. Centralized training camps were established at the Karolyis’ ranch, where team doctor Larry Nassar assaulted athletes for years. At these camps, many gymnasts have said in recent years, the Karolyis have forced athletes to train over serious injuries and created an environment in which gymnasts feared being seen eating more than small quantities. The Karolyis said they were unaware of Nassar’s behavior and their lawyer denied the abuse allegations against them.

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