Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Sex-Abuse Scandal Plaguing US Swimming

Anna Strzempko
AT THIRTEEN, Anna Strzempko was nine years into her amateur career when she reached the finals of the 2008 YMCA Long Course National Championship, swimming for the Greater Holyoke YMCA Vikings in western Massachusetts. Over the past five years, only one other female Viking had made it to the individual finals at nationals, and this was a turning point, that quiet moment when Strzempko’s potential went from competitor to contender. The curly-haired middle-distance freestyler was the baby of the swim team, and in a sport where young promise follows a quick route to glory, she now had her start.

Strzempko’s swim coach was a tall, gray-haired taskmaster. He’d trained and built swimmers for 30 years, some going on to the Olympic Trials and NCAA Division I schools. According to Strzempko and other swimmers, he threw clipboards at his athletes and screamed when they made him mad, either for a slow interval or just by catching him on a bad day. They were used to the mood swings, but they were still terrified of swimming badly. Parents generally didn’t mind. They saw it all as part of his method.

The coach was good at spotting talent, and on an August day in 2008, Strzempko says, he called her into his office and told her she had the potential to compete in the 2012 Olympic Trials, four years away. Like any athlete who has performed under a no-bullshit authority figure, she was thrilled, because nothing the coach said was said lightly.

Toward the end of their discussion, the coach asked the eighth-grader where she was planning to go to high school. After she told him, he informed her that swimming came before education and that she needed to be prepared for this reality. Strzempko said education came first in her family, and this set him off. Strzempko recalls him saying “Not this again” and then slapping her face. Next, she says, he ordered her into a storage room adjoining his office.  (more...)

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