American gymnast Laurie Hernandez shared her story of mental and emotional abuse from former coach Maggie Haney on Wednesday, hours after Haney was suspended eight years by USA Gymnastics.
Hernandez, 19, won gold in the all-around team competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Haney coached Hernandez and fellow gymnast Riley McCusker in Monmouth Junction, N.J. before Hernandez took a two-year hiatus in 2016. Hernandez returned to gymnastics in 2018, but she did so in California, no longer with Haney.
Hernandez detailed consistent verbal and emotional abuse from Haney in an Instagram post on Thursday, noting, "I don't mind sharing my story. Here's to speaking up."
"This kind of behavior and treatment is never okay," Hernandez wrote. "There are some things from my experience that will unfortunately stick with me forever, and I'll always be working to heal from it–but sharing my story gives me a chance to close the chapter, take a deep breath, and start something new."
Earlier this month, Hernandez joined Sports Illustrated's 'Coronavirus + Sports' podcast to discuss her time during quarantine, her ambitions for Tokyo and why she relied heavily on her teammates and friends such as Aly Raisman.
Hernandez said she is currently aiming to join the USA Olympic team in Tokyo in 2021, but "my first priority from the beginning was my happiness, and that was enough for me."
Speaking out for the first time since she testified against her former coach, gymnast Laurie Hernandez finally feels validated.
Hernandez, a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. team in 2016, was one of at least a dozen gymnasts who said they were verbally or emotionally abused by former USA Gymnastics coach Maggie Haney.
Haney was suspended by USA Gymnastics for eight years on Wednesday, having failed “to provide a safe, positive and healthy environment with a culture of trust and empowerment.”
“I thought they were just going to try to sweep it under the rug,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times. “But wow, they did the right thing. I can’t believe they actually did the right thing.”
“I thought I deserved all of it” Hernandez filed her first abuse complaints against Haney to a USA Gymnastics official in 2016.
Hernandez, now 19, said that Haney’s abuse sparked eating disorders and depression. She said Haney would scream at her for minor mistakes, call her names, berated her for her weight and body and more. Parents have reportedly said that they saw Haney fat-shame girls and kick others out of practice. She even reportedly made injured gymnasts remove boot casts and other medical devices to continue training.
Hernandez said she even started wearing two sports bras to flatten her chest after Haney made a comment about her breasts.
“I thought I deserved all of it,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times.
“The toughest part about it was that there were no bruises or marks to show that it was real. It was all just so twisted that I thought it couldn’t be real.”
Hernandez started training with Haney’s team when she was 5. By the time she was a teenager, Hernandez remembers crying in the mornings before she had even gotten out of bed while thinking about seeing Haney at practice later that day.
It wasn’t all bad, however — something that she said made the situation even more confusing. She recalled fun team banquets, sleepovers and ice cream trips. Practices, though, were awful.
“Any compliment was like holy water,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times. “It went from one day walking on eggshells with her to her saying the next day that ‘we’re in this together.’ She really knew how to mess with your head.”
Sights set on Tokyo Hernandez helped Team USA win a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and won a silver medal herself on the balance beam. She even competed on “Dancing With the Stars” after the games and wrote two books.
Putting up with Haney’s abuse, however, still wasn’t worth it.
“I’m grateful that I got to the Olympics, but at what cost?” Hernandez said, via The New York Times.
Now, Hernandez has moved to California and is training at a new gym. She is receiving treatment for her “full-on major depression,” too, and is finally happy in the sport.
Her next goal is to make it to the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo — which were rescheduled to next summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whether I make it to Tokyo or not, I’m doing something I love on my own terms,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times, “and people treat me the way I want to be treated, and that makes me happy.”
Laurie Hernandez said now-banned coach Maggie Haney, who guided her to a 2016 Olympic gymnastics title, verbally and emotionally abused her leading up to the Rio Games. Hernandez said she developed eating disorders and depression as a result, according to The New York Times.
Haney was banned eight years by a USA Gymnastics independent hearing panel for violations including of an ethical code of conduct and safe sport policy, the federation announced Wednesday. Haney has not responded to a message seeking comment. Her attorney said she plans to appeal, according to reports.
“The toughest part about it was that there were no bruises or marks to show that it was real,” Hernandez said after the ban was announced, according to the Times. “It was all just so twisted that I thought it couldn’t be real.”
Haney coached Hernandez in New Jersey from her start in gymnastics, around age 5, through the Rio Olympics. Hernandez, the youngest U.S. female athlete across all sports in Rio at age 16, earned gold with the U.S. team and silver on the balance beam.
Hernandez told her mom about Haney’s conduct weeks after the Games. Her mom sent a complaint to USA Gymnastics, according to the Times.
Hernandez took a break from gymnastics and moved to California in 2018. She began training for a Tokyo Olympic bid in earnest last year with new coaches.
“The idea of sharing my story with the world feels extremely nerve wrecking and vulnerable,” was posted on Hernandez’s Instagram on Thursday in a thread that did not name Haney, “but after hearing positive results last night from the panel, I felt that sharing my story could help others, or at least raise awareness to emotional and verbal abuse.”
Laurie Hernandez gave her first TV interview, while former coach Maggie Haney offered her first public comments, after Haney was banned eight years after verbal and emotional abuse of gymnasts.
“It’s a really big step for gymnasts and USA Gymnastics just to go ahead and do the right thing and make sure people know that kind of treatment isn’t OK. It’s not OK,” Hernandez said on TODAY on Monday while promoting the “Stronger than you think” initiative to help teens through mental health.
Hernandez said that the process that ended up suspending Haney took too long, about three and a half years after she first told her mom.
“I mean, the case was opened late 2019/early 2020,” she said. “In all that time, they could have prevented a lot of athletes from having to go through the same thing that I went through, but I’m just glad that we were able to do something about it.”
Haney, who coached Hernandez to Olympic gold and silver medals in Rio, issued a statement.
“My coaching techniques were at all times, well-intended; meant specifically to lead her to her personal goal of achieving Olympic gold,” Haney said, according to TODAY. “If the pursuit of excellence and the rigor of my coaching style has resulted in any harm to any gymnast that has been a part of my team, I am truly sorry.”
USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung said the organization vows to do better.
“To respond more empathically, to resolve complaints more efficiently, and to be more vigilant,” she said in a statement last week. “We will keep improving this process until our athletes and our community can trust it. And we will keep working with our community to improve the culture within our sport, so that abuse like this is no longer tolerated.”
Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez has hit out at USA Gymnastics and its handling of the abuse case against her former coach Maggie Haney, revealing that it took three years after the teenager filed a complaint for a case to be opened.
In an interview with the Today show - her first TV appearance since Haney, 42, was handed an eight-year suspension by USAG - Hernandez, 19, celebrated the decision, noting that it was 'a really big step for gymnasts', while sharing her happiness that USAG 'did the right thing'.
However, Hernandez, who was a part of the gold-medal winning US gymnastics team in Rio 2016, admitted that she was disappointed that it took so long for action to be taken against Haney - who carried on coaching athletes for years after Hernandez and her mother called attention to her abusive training techniques.
'We had sent in some type of report in 2016 when I had first told my mom…' the gymnast explained.
'The case was opened late 2019, early 2020, and so I think in all that time, it could have prevented a lot of athletes from having to go through the same thing that I went through, but I'm just glad we were able to do something about it.'