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Former Olympic gymnast MyKayla Skinner draws criticism for saying SafeSport is hindering coaches

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Olympic medal-winning gymnast MyKayla Skinner Harmer is drawing criticism for a since-deleted YouTube video in which she said the U.S. Center for SafeSport is making it difficult for coaches to do their job.

Skinner, who won silver on vault at the Tokyo Olympics, said coaches “can’t get on athletes” out of fear of being reported to SafeSport, an independent entity that handles allegations of abuse from various governing bodies across the U.S. Olympic movement.

“(Coaches) have to be really careful about what they say, which in some ways is really good, but at the same time, to get where you need to be in gymnastics, you have to be … a little aggressive and a little intense,” Skinner said.

The 27-year-old Skinner, who retired after Tokyo, seemed to draw a direct line between the lack of structured coaching and most of the five-woman team that will represent the U.S. at the Paris Olympics.

“Besides Simone (Biles), I feel like the talent and the depth just isn’t like what it used to be,” Skinner said. “Just notice like, I mean, obviously a lot of girls don’t work as hard. The girls just don’t have the work ethic.”

Skinner later walked back her comments, posting on Instagram that it was not her intention to “offend or disrespect any of the athletes or take away from their hard work.”

She also said she hadn’t fully dealt with the emotional and verbal abuse she experienced while training under former U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

Skinner previously told The Associated Press she was “scared” to return to the national team in 2019 after competing collegiately at Utah, even though Karolyi was no longer part of the program following the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first to come forward and detail sexual abuse by Nassar, then a U.S. national team doctor, said Skinner’s comments show that there’s still a “long way to go” in educating people about the impact abusive behavior can have.

“When an athlete reminisces about one of the most abusive coaches in gymnastics history, suggesting her abusive model was necessary for work ethic, we have a problem,” Denhollander posted on X.

SafeSport declined to comment.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

The Associated Press

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