Gymnastics Canada: hit and denigrated by her coach

Alexandra Landry competed in the last competition of her career at the London Olympics in 2012. What was supposed to be the pinnacle of her young life as a gymnast was rather a release, after years marked by physical and psychological abuse that haunted her still today.

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Landry is one of 270 signatories to the open letter asking Sport Canada to set up an independent investigation.

All condemn what they call a “toxic culture” and “abusive practices” at Gymnastics Canada.

The Montreal-born was 15 when she was told by a trainer to eat nothing but watermelon and drink nothing but water on the one day the teenager didn’t exercise. did not train. “And if I was still hungry, I was told to brush my teeth and go to bed. »

Landry was an elite athlete, who practiced 10 hours a day. But her body didn’t fit her trainer’s standards.

“In rhythmic gymnastics, it’s very much about what you look like on the mat,” Landry explains to Newspaper. When my body started to change, I suffered a lot of psychological harassment in relation to my weight. »

Alexandra in action during a competition.

Courtesy picture

Alexandra in action during a competition.

“I did what I was asked to do,” she continues. I wanted to do everything to lose weight. I was on a 1000 calorie a day diet. »

Some 13 years have passed since then. The consequences of the degrading remarks have never disappeared.

Banged by her trainer

After retiring from sports at age 18, Landry was ill for a long time. She suffered from gallbladder stones, which she says is a direct result of years of starving herself in an attempt to live up to her standards. Even today, she is being treated for anxiety.

The abuse wasn’t just psychological, Landry says. She explains that one day, after making a mistake during a competition, a trainer hit her in a hall, in front of all her teammates.

The young athlete said nothing. The ex-gymnasts with whom The newspaper discussed in recent days all say: there is a culture of omertà in the middle.

“It was a bit like being brainwashed,” Landry said. When we went to other places and I saw how trainers [étaient] softer, more attentive, I couldn’t believe it. I told myself that if we had made it to the top, it was because our coach had abusive practices. »

The gymnasts we spoke to in the last few days asked not to name the coaches who had the behaviors denounced today. They do not want a single person to be blamed, but rather want to show the inaction of the sports federation.

Fear of losing his place

Landry was 6 years old when she started gymnastics in the Toronto area, where her family moved when she was very young. It became a passion, and quickly she rose through the ranks to the elite.

But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare. “Mentally, it was very difficult. I had no one to talk to about it except my parents. They wanted to settle the situation with Gymnastics Canada, but in training, it fell on me. The trainer was even more angry with me, ”she laments.

“At one point, I was afraid of losing my place in the team. So I started keeping it to myself, for a very long time. »

In any case, believes Landry, it would have been difficult to resolve the situation with his sports federation. “To talk to Gymnastics Canada, I had to go through my coach. But I couldn’t tell someone who was abusing me that I wanted a change. »

A Spaniard gets involved

She explains that Gymnastics Canada did try to act once, but it was too little. His trainer was forbidden to talk to him about his weight. However, says the ex-athlete, the latter has found a way around the situation.

“Once, my coach went to see a coach from Spain to talk to me. She put a chair in a room. I sat down and she told me it was shameful for Canada to have someone as fat as me. That if I hurt myself, it was because of my weight. That it was embarrassing and that because of me, the team was going to lose points. »

It was clear to Landry that she would retire from the sport after the 2012 Games. She thought about quitting first, but when Olympic qualification became possible, she clung to her dream. The young woman now works in Montreal, in human resources. A career choice that is no stranger to his difficult sporting years, she points out.

Alexandra Landry (in the background) at the London Games in 2012.

Courtesy picture

Alexandra Landry (in the background) at the London Games in 2012.

And even if she is proud to have been an Olympian, to have represented Canada, she especially keeps painful memories of her years in rhythmic gymnastics. She has also given up most of the memories related to her years as an athlete.

“It’s sad to say, but when I think back to my career, what comes to mind are the difficult times I’ve been through,” she regrets. When I think back on that, I think it’s amazing what I went through just to get to the Olympics. »

They want to be consulted

The gymnasts who signed the open letter to Sport Canada regret not having been invited to the emergency round table set up by the federal government on Thursday.

The purpose of this meeting was to find, “within the Canadian sports community, lasting and effective solutions to counter abuse and ill-treatment in the environment,” explains the Minister of Sports, Pascale St-Onge.

A crisis

Since he took office six months ago, groups of athletes from eight government-funded federations have come out publicly to denounce cases of abuse or mismanagement.

The gymnasts are the last in line. On Monday, 71 athletes, ex-athletes, parents and judges had signed the open letter in which it is question of “abuse, neglect and discrimination” on the part of Canadian coaches. They are now more than 270 signatories.

“This is a crisis for which the solutions will be found when the voices calling for change are brought to the table,” commented this group of gymnasts on Friday. None of us were invited to the meeting. We are waiting for the chance to talk about these issues. »

In interview at NewspaperMs. St-Onge acknowledged that her department is currently facing a crisis.

She says that’s why she quickly brought together several stakeholders, including representatives from AthletesCAN, the Canadian national team athletes’ association.

“These are discussions that were initiated before my arrival in office, she pointed out. Many things have already been done, but it’s time to look at how we can go faster, further and, above all, transform Canadian sports culture at all levels. »

Independent body

The minister announced this week that she wanted to speed up the establishment of the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada, an independent body that should be able to receive complaints from athletes by the summer.

Among the denunciations made in the last few days, some concerned coaches who, according to gymnasts, remain in post within the federation.

It will be up to the Center to determine what sanctions will be taken, if any, explained Ms. St-Onge.

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