Maggie Nichols devoted her life to making the US national gymnastics team. Like other Olympic hopefuls, she gave up almost everything to achieve this goal, including school. Despite a series of injuries, she was being touted as the next Simone Biles and on track to be selected for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Her dream was shattered after she reported being sexually abused by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, a seemingly caring pillar of the community who’d worked for the organisation for almost 30 years. USA Gymnastics launched a deliberately inconclusive internal investigation in which Nichols became known as ‘Athlete A’.
Around the same time, the Indianapolis Star ran a story about predatory gymnastics coaches being moved from gym to gym, but never charged with a crime. The story revealed that USA Gymnastics had protected coaches, and often broke the law by failing to report allegations of abuse to authorities. Former competitive gymnast Rachael Denhollander stumbled across the exposé and called the newspaper about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar. National rhythmic gymnastics champion Jessica Howard read the same article and also called the newspaper with a similar account of abuse by the doctor. Olympian Jamie Dantzscher spoke to her lawyer, who also contacted the Indianapolis Star regarding her Nassar allegations.
The paper’s reporters wondered: if there were three Nassar victims contacting the newspaper, how many more could there be? It turns out there were many, many more: at least 500 reported so far, including nine Olympians, such as Biles. In training its lens on athletes vying for a coveted spot on the American Olympic team, as well as junior gymnasts coming up the ranks, Athlete A investigates systemic abuse and institutionalised corruption within the seemingly glamorous world of gymnastics.
While Athlete A spotlights the horrific sexual and emotional abuse of hundreds of young athletes by Nassar and their coaches, it also shines a light on the individuals working to hold USA Gymnastics and Nassar accountable. The Indianapolis Star reporters who broke the story and revealed a cover-up that reached the highest levels of the Olympic sport. The courageous group of survivors – Nichols, Denhollander, Dantzscher and Howard – who bravely fought the system. And three determined women – police detective Lt Andrea Munford, prosecuting attorney Angela Povilaitis and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina – who made sure that truth prevailed and justice was served.
Larry Nassar was sentenced to two 60-year sentences in 2019. Many will remember his trial and the powerful image of woman after woman coming up to look Nassar in the eye and give their testimony. While the fight against USA Gymnastics – and its decades-long cover-up – continues, it’s warming to see the level of closure the victims have found since his conviction. While Nichols gave up on her dream of being an Olympian, she was able to find joy – and huge success – in the sport again at the college level. This powerful watch is both eye-opening and inspiring.
Athlete A is available to watch on Netflix now
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