Ashton should probably just delete her social media at this point. Oh wait but she went pro and needs it to become the non Olympic medal winning version of Nastia.
Ashton should probably just delete her social media at this point. Oh wait but she went pro and needs it to become the non Olympic medal winning version of Nastia.
simonebiles international friendships to last a lifetime 🇫🇷
Practices at Everest Gymnastics in North Carolina, one of the sport’s top training centers, often began with Coach Qi Han calling out which of the girls, including some as young as 9, would be placed in the “fat group.”
Those gymnasts were assigned extra workouts to lose weight, four gymnasts who trained with Han within the past six years said, but they didn’t dare complain. They tried not to cry, and if they did, the gymnasts said, Han might call them stupid and unworthy of his attention. Or he might throw a shoe or a cellphone at them. Or angrily shove them off a high bar as he stood on a raised platform.
Han would lose his temper nearly every day, keeping his athletes on edge as they wondered when — and how — he would explode, the gymnasts said.
Parents were rarely around. They had been barred from practices.
Last month, Ashton Locklear, 20, a member of the national gymnastics team, told The New York Times that Han had verbally abused her — a pattern that escalated to an incident in which he threw a cellphone at her. She left the gym earlier this year.
Since then, four other former Everest gymnasts have come forward with similar accusations, describing patterns of emotional and physical abuse that have been overshadowed in the sport by concerns about sexual abuse, which have come to widespread attention in recent years.
The growing awareness of abuse in the sport was prompted by the conviction of Lawrence G. Nassar, the former national team doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics, who was accused of sexually abusing more than 150 gymnasts. He was sentenced in January to 40 to 175 years in prison.
Han is not accused of sexual abuse.
Still, the former Everest gymnasts said his treatment of them went beyond the hard-charging style typical of many coaches in the sport, with devastating consequences.
Two parents of former Everest gymnasts and Monica Avery, a coach and gym owner in North Carolina, also reached out to The Times, saying they had reported Han’s abuse to U.S.A. Gymnastics years ago, with no apparent consequences for him.
Han immediately cut off a phone call from a Times reporter last week, and did not return voice or text messages that informed him of the accusations against him.
In a statement released Friday, Everest Gymnastics said, “We do not tolerate abuse of any kind in our facility.”
“If any credible abuse allegations exist,’’ the statement said, “Everest Gymnastics encourages those parties to contact U.S.A. Gymnastics.”
The four gymnasts who came forward — Taylor Laymon, who attended the University of Pittsburgh on a full gymnastics scholarship; Allee George, a four-time all-around state champion who said she quit the sport because of Han’s behavior; and two other gymnasts, who asked to remain anonymous because they still compete and fear retribution — said they carried emotional scars from Han’s mistreatment.
“Han would kind of brainwash you into thinking all of his weird ways of disciplining you were normal, like when he would stretch your shoulders past your breaking point until you screamed, but still wouldn’t stop,” George, now a professional dancer, said. “Once you’re in there, it’s hard to get out and it’s kind of hard to explain. The people he coaches turn out to be good gymnasts. But they don’t turn out mentally good.”
Han, 47, grew up in China and as a child was chosen to train for gymnastics, becoming a member of the national team. He opened the Everest gym in 2004 with his wife, Yiwen Chen, also a former member of China’s national team. Their gym has placed two athletes on the United States senior national team.
The former Everest gymnasts said they knew Han could make them great because of his technical expertise. They had dreams of earning scholarships to compete in college, or of making the Olympics. So enduring his wrath seemed worth it.
Yet now they are reassessing their choices and are certain they would not have worked with him if given a chance to do things over.
“Han would say all of these negative things to you, like you’re uncoachable and you don’t deserve a college scholarship, and you’d hear it so much as a kid that you’d start to believe you’re worthless,” said Laymon, who graduated from Pittsburgh last spring with a degree in psychology and sociology and is now a teacher in Chicago.
“He could pretty much do whatever he wanted in the gym because nobody was watching,” she added.
Laymon said that for years she had considered going public with her accusations against Han so she could spare young girls, but that she was always afraid that somehow he would find a way to retaliate.
When Locklear publicly announced last month that she had been molested by Nassar and then detailed allegations of abuse by Han, Laymon realized she needed to open up about Han as well. There was so much at stake, she said, because abusive coaches can scare girls into silence, making them more vulnerable to sexual predators.
Han’s demeanor is not uncommon in elite gymnastics, said Avery, a coach who owns Osega Gymnastics outside Asheville, N.C., with her husband, Miles Avery, a four-time Olympic coach and member of the U.S.A. Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
“I’ve seen grown men and women witness something like that at a meet and pretend that nothing is happening,” Monica Avery said. “I bet these same people would get their dogs’ hair cut at a groomer and if it’s not cut just right, they’d complain and complain. But they let their kids get treated like that and do nothing? It’s crazy.”
Monica Avery said she filed a formal complaint about Han with U.S.A. Gymnastics in 2016 after she witnessed him kicking a gymnast who had been injured at a competition in Texas. She said she had been unable to learn exactly what had become of the complaint.
“People have knowledge of Han’s behavior, but have chosen to do nothing,” she said, adding: “This has to go further. We have to protect kids.”
After she filed the complaint, it would have been handled, according to the federation, by U.S.A. Gymnastics’ member misconduct committee and the executive office, which included the president, Steve Penny. Penny resigned under pressure in 2017 over the way he handled the Nassar sex abuse case.
U.S.A. Gymnastics on Thursday confirmed that in 2017 it forwarded a complaint about Han to the United States Center for SafeSport, which is responsible for investigating abuse claims in Olympic sports. SafeSport assumed jurisdiction over the case to prevent a conflict of interest for U.S.A. Gymnastics because Han was coaching Locklear, a national team member at the time.
Avery followed up that complaint with emails in 2017 and early 2018 to an investigator at SafeSport, but the investigator told her only that the lawyers were considering what to do in the case, according to an email exchange in January.
A spokesman for SafeSport, Dan Hill, said that the organization was not obliged to give updates about cases to any reporting parties and that it never discussed whether a case was under investigation.
Locklear and one of the gymnasts who did not want her name published said Han’s abuse left them contemplating suicide. Both said they struggle with eating disorders and body-image issues that started when they were at Everest.
“I remember wishing our car would wreck on the way to practice or hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next day,” said the gymnast who requested anonymity. “Or being in the shower and holding my breath as the water ran over me until I passed out.”
“Coaches have so much power,” she added, “power over college scholarships and Olympic dreams — too much power.”
Sam Cerio, a gymnast on a full athletic scholarship at Auburn, recently confirmed that Han once hit her on the head with such force that he left a handprint on her face. She declined to elaborate on the incident, which occurred in 2012 during her freshman year of high school.
Laymon, the former gymnast at Pittsburgh, said she saw Han hit Cerio. She said that, and Han’s routine abuse, had traumatized her and led to her leaving Everest.
Terri Laymon, Taylor’s mother and a gymnastics judge, said she then filed a disciplinary complaint on behalf of her daughter and her daughter’s teammates — who were all minors — with U.S.A. Gymnastics, telling the federation what Han had done to Cerio. As a judge, she said she felt it was her ethical duty to report the incident, and she forwarded her letter to other Everest parents, asking for signatures of support.
But no other parents would confirm that Han had slapped Cerio. Han denied abusing Cerio or any other gymnast, Terri Laymon said, and threatened to sue her for slander, libel and defamation of character.
Taylor Laymon said she refused to speak to U.S.A. Gymnastics investigators because she was terrified that Han would find out. Other parents at Everest began attacking Terri Laymon and issuing appeals for support of Han, writing in one email that Terri Laymon’s accusations “will only hurt our girls’ future in gymnastics if she is allowed to continue.”
Cerio’s parents regret what they did next. They sided with Han.
The parents, Becky and Mike Cerio, said they were telling their story now as a cautionary tale about nonsexual abuse in the sport. They said they had initially confronted Han and that he had told Mike Cerio that the contact was “just a tap that didn’t hurt her.”
Han then threatened to bar Sam from the gym if the Cerios did not deny the incident, Mike Cerio said.
The Cerios recalled their thought process at the time: It was a serious recruiting season for Sam, and changing gyms would raise red flags with college coaches. Han had coached Sam since she was 5 and he had taken her far, within reach of a full ride at a college with a highly regarded gymnastics program. Becky Cerio worked at the gym, and the family needed that money.
They just had to get through a few more months with Han, they reasoned then, and then they could walk away.
So they signed a letter Han had asked them to write, addressed only “to whom it may concern,” disputing Terri Laymon’s complaint. The Cerios said they assumed it had been forwarded to U.S.A. Gymnastics.
“We felt like we had no choice,” Mike Cerio said, adding that they “tried to be vague” in the letter’s wording.
Terri Laymon’s complaint died right there.
“U.S.A.G. said they couldn’t do anything unless I witnessed it or someone else makes a complaint,” Terri Laymon said in a phone interview this month. “Even though all the girls who saw it happen were minors, nothing could be done unless they gave a report. And they were all too terrified of Han to do anything.”
Other complaints about Han appear just as doomed.
Locklear’s mother, Carrie, said she had reported Han’s abuse of Ashton to top U.S.A. Gymnastics officials. She told them how Han had dismissed Ashton from the gym again and again, how he had belittled her and monitored her eating so closely that she did not want to eat anything at all — or would eat too much, and then purge. Ashton, she said, became emotionally fragile because of Han.
Carrie Locklear said she had a follow-up conversation with the U.S. Center for SafeSport in March and subsequently spoke to an investigator. She has not heard anything from SafeSport since.
Ashton Locklear, who is training in Texas and working to make the 2020 Olympic team, said she hoped more gymnasts would stand up to reveal abusers. If not now, as gymnastics officials are calling for a sea change to the entire culture of the sport, then when?
“It’s gone on for way too long,” she said.
I just got the SafeSport report that several gymnasts from Everest filed against Ashton. Her hearing is Aug 10-11 and several of her victims, including one who is currently in NCAA, will be part of the panel giving statements about what she did and how it affected them.
This feels so conflicting because as someone who is a victim of Nassar, you want to believe her about everything…but I think this is a good reminder that people are not inherently good people just because they happen to be victims of abuse. I don’t think we can excuse her behavior because she was abused, but I think we can support her as a victim while still disliking what she did to others.
Also, I should mention that the parents who tried to slander her about the alcohol incident are still in the wrong either way. They didn’t say anything about bullying, just about the alcohol, and said she was kicked out for this reason, trying to spread lies about her to get people against her…that wasn’t exactly true but I guess it turns out Ashton isn’t a saint either. A reminder that there are always 1 billion sides to every story, and that those who are hurting sometimes hurt others as well.
I’m talking to one of her victims who is on her way to classics on the phone tonight so hopefully I’ll be able to get more info about what went down. I trust it more coming from a kid who lived it than from a parent who wants revenge or whatever.
Okay, I just got off the phone and got the story. Ashton apparently “bullied, verbally abused, and threatened minors” for years, both as a minor herself and then as an adult. A few girls were highly targeted by her (“she only called my daughter fat but she made those other girls’ lives hell” according to one parent), including one who is now in college and wants to speak at Ashton’s panel hearing on Aug 10-11, but is afraid to come forward publicly. Many of the girls she victimized were 6+ years younger than her and she also bullied a couple of current national team members who may or may not come forward for the hearing.
After years of this behavior, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ashton rented an Airbnb for her birthday and invited her teammates, some as young as 13, to her party and told them “don’t tell your parents there’s going to be alcohol.” That in itself wasn’t really a bad thing (slash almost every teenager has done this, and the people I talked to kind of laughed at this like “my daughter’s the one who told us all worried and we were like this is a normal kid thing to do”) but some parents were really upset about it with everything else that had gone on, so they decided after this party – where Ashton was technically “putting minors in danger,” their reasoning – to file a SafeSport report against her.
The report was filed in February and Ashton was suspended from the gym during that time and while suspended Ashton thought it was probably best that she leave the gym, so Han called Laurent and asked him to “give her a second chance” because at first Laurent was leery about taking someone who had been suspended by her previous gym (slash we all know Simone runs WCC and is like THE one person who won’t take any of Ashton’s shit, lol).
A former FBI agent was assigned to investigate Ashton’s case, but he doesn’t respond to emails from concerned parents, and though the report “finds her completely at fault,” nothing has been done in response to this. The parents seem to think that USAG is just going to ride it out, because they’ll name a new national team in a month anyway and Ashton won’t be on it with her injury, so this is kind of their “out” but they’re concerned that Ashton will run into their kids at a meet and their kids will feel threatened/upset if they get put in the same rotation or something, and worse, they feel that Ashton is going to begin coaching as her career option and they don’t think she should be in a position of power around minors.
This is all compiled partly from parents, and then also from a few of the children who were bullied and are still very upset about the treatment they faced, one of whom said “she threatened to ruin my life” and then acted on that threat (without getting into details, it was bad). I don’t want to make any judgments personally, so this is literally all them and none of me or my opinion, but as much as I feel for Ashton as a victim of Nassar, I think it’s also important to tell the truth about how she has treated others. It doesn’t take away from her being a victim (and maybe her own victimization is what caused her to lash out against others), but an adult threatening and harrassing minors is a legit crime and she’s lucky parents went to SafeSport and not law enforcement.
I’m sure USAG wants to keep this quiet, but I think I’m going to try to do what I did with Alex Naddour and give them a call just asking for details about the panel hearing…though I’m sure one of the reasons she came forward about Han being “abusive” is so now if USAG suspends her or something, it’ll look like retaliation, which kind of puts USAG in a bind…but SafeSport literally “found her at fault’ and so USAG kind of HAS to do something, though I agree that with the timing of her hearing and nationals, they’re probably just waiting to name a new national team and then act like they were planning on suspending her after the hearing but then she didn’t get named to the team again so they didn’t have to suspend her or something.
Holy shit so is there any truth to what she said about her coach from Everest? Or was that strategically done so when she got suspended it looks like it was in retaliation to her coming forward about abuse rather than because she was actually also a massive bully and abusive herself?
I have heard a lot about Han’s behavior, tbh, so I’m assuming the way he treated her probably impacted the way she treats others. The parents I talked to all love Han and defended him relating to her recent comments to the press, so I was kinda just going along with them and keeping any of my knowledge about him being emotionally abusive to myself so they’d feel comfortable talking to me and didn’t think I was anti-Han or something. There is definitely truth to what Ashton said about her coach, but I think the timing of her coming forward about him was definitely related to her panel hearing so she could get it out there first that she’s a victim…it makes her look better. Like I said, a super complicated situation, and I almost feel bad talking about her negatively knowing she came from an emotionally abusive gym environment and then was also sexually abused…but her own abuse doesn’t make her behavior towards others right. It EXPLAINS her behavior, absolutely…but it doesn’t give her a free pass to threaten and bully children just because she was abused. Though hopefully now that she’s in a new environment, she’s learning how to cope in a healthier way.
Don’t know if this has been posted yet, but here’s Ashton’s statement about being a survivor.