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Shelf Pick

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal

In a similar fashion to Netflix’s Athlete A, At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal, an HBO documentary follows the Larry Nassar trial and the long-standing abuse that riddled USA Gymnastics (USAG) athletes. While Athlete A focused more on the police investigation, At the Heart of Gold focused on the victims, their stories and the trial. If there’s one sports documentary I can recommend, it’s At the Heart of Gold. The survivors deserve to have their voices heard and listened to and At the Heart of Gold made sure the public did.

At the Heart of Gold reveals the effect of

Capitalism in sport

There’s no doubt that USAG is a money-making machine. When your athletes consistently perform at their best, sponsorship dollars are constantly flowing in. With that being said, At the Heart of Gold depicted how the gymnasts and their bodies were used to promote capitalism.

The abuse that USAG athletes faced started with restrictions on their bodies.

When the gymnasts were in pain, they were told not to complain, yell or cry. Furthermore, these elite-gymnasts would train through fatigue and injury.

Not to mention, if you did speak up, it was likely that your Olympic dream would be taken from you. USAG wanted to win, find podium success and ultimately, make money. It’s unfortunate but not shocking that the young women were an afterthought.

In At the Heart of Gold, we are first shown how Béla and Márta Károlyi, the most well-known, elite-gymnastics coaching couple, created a culture that allowed the abuse. Athletes were bullied into things they didn’t want to do or physically couldn’t do.

Alarmingly, the Károlyi’s restricted athletes from their phones, internet, personal coaches, and even their parents. This was what At the Heart of Gold called ‘Athletic Darwinism.’ If a gymnast could not physically or mentally handle the training camps, someone new would take your place as soon as you expressed discomfort, pain or unease.

At the Heart of Gold reveals a culture of

Obedience shaping in gymnastics

At the hands of the Károlyi’s, Larry Nassar had routine access to the gymnasts of USAG. Nassar was known as ‘the good guy.’ He would become friends with the gymnasts, sneak them candy and food, allow them to access their phones and engage in conversations that would lighten the gymnasts’ mood. It was all a part of Nassar’s grooming tactic.

When Nassar would conduct examinations, he frequently had the parents of the athlete in the room. However, he positioned himself in a way where the parents had no idea what was going on. The young athletes thought ‘maybe this is normal because my parent is in the room with me?’ and ‘well, he is a doctor!’

Sadly, it was yet another grooming tactic. None of these athletes had sexual experiences at the ages in which they were being abused. Of course, they would have no idea of what was going on. Especially, at the hands of a trusted doctor that had been so nice to them.

At the Heart of Gold reveals the effect of

Ethics and protection of the powerful in sport

Decades of abuse were covered up and went unreported. At the Heart of Gold detailed this protection of power throughout the documentary. The USAG knew.

The United States Olympic Committee knew. Michigan State University knew. Elite gymnastics gym, TwistStars knew. Yet, all the claims against Nassar that were filed deemed his procedures medically appropriate. Again, these organizations were more focused on protecting their brand, rather than the athletes that were at the forefront.

Now that Nassar has been sentenced, we can only hope policies and procedures continue to change within the organizations that have access to our children.

At the Heart of Gold is a documentary that gave viewers an inside look into the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse criminal case that shook the sports world. At the hands of figures that were once trusted, young gymnasts experienced decades of abuse that was routinely covered up.

They were brainwashed to believe that Nassar was the ‘good guy.’ If an athlete were to speak up, they were immediately silenced and their hopes and dreams were stripped away from them.

It’s no wonder that the years of abuse inflicted upon USAG athletes was unknown to the public until recently, these young women were afraid to speak about their experiences as the consequences could potentially become a burden!

Final Thoughts

At the Heart of Gold gave these survivors a voice. We heard their impact statements to Nassar. We cried with them. We felt their pain. But most of all, we learned from them and can now rally for change in the world of sport. At the Heart of Gold addressed major problems within sport; problems that need to be addressed. Change is coming but, it takes a village and At the Heart of Gold depicted just that.

On The shelf