'Needs to stop': Aussie athletes come forward in gymnastics scandal

Mary-Anne Monckton, Georgia Bonora and Olivia Vivian, pictured here during their gymnastics careers.
Mary-Anne Monckton, Georgia Bonora and Olivia Vivian have all come forward. Image: Getty

A number of Australian athletes have come forward to tell their own stories as allegations of abuse continue to rock the gymnastics world.

American and British gymnastics has been plunged into scandal over recent months, with gymnasts speaking out via the #GymnastAlliance movement.

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The Netflix documentary ‘Athlete A’, which features disgraced former USA team doctor Larry Nasser, has inspired many current and former gymnasts to speak up.

And now a number of Australian gymnasts have come forward, taking to social media to share horrifying stories of body-shaming and physical and verbal abuse.

Chloe Gilliland, nee Sims, said she suffered from bulimia as a result of abuse by coaches and said she considered tasking her own life.

“They never called me ‘fat’ but remarked that I was ‘too heavy’, which was why I repeatedly couldn’t make it through my bar routine or the reason behind my stress injuries,” the 2006 Commonwealth gold medallist wrote on Facebook.

Chloe Gilliland, pictured here at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Chloe Gilliland (far right) at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“If they weren’t making comments about being ‘heavy for the next day’, the next thing they would revert to saying, was that I was just stupid.

“So at 17 despite receiving sports psychology and dietitian advice, I felt it was easier to end my own life, than to give in to what they wanted me to be.”

Gilliland said she was forced to quit the sport in her prime and is “sharing this because behind those smiles on the podium, are dark and horrible things that happen in the gym behind closed doors”.

Mary-Anne Monckton, a five time-national champion who won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, also shared her experiences.

“The abuse (physical, mental and emotional) needs to stop, or at least be stamped out of our sport,” she wrote on Facebook.

“I, like so many others, have experienced body shaming, have had food withheld, been yelled at until I cried (even as an adult athlete, which is downright embarrassing), and been manipulated and ‘forced’ to do things that I was not physically ready for or capable of doing, which ultimately led to career ending injuries.

“For anyone reading this and wondering why these things continue to happen and why gymnasts don’t speak up about issues when they are having them, it is because it will ultimately ‘hurt’ them more than anyone else involved.

“Imagine having everything you have ever worked for, taken away from you. This is why you stay silent; out of fear.

“This culture has been normalised within our sport and has impacted many young gymnasts’ lives. These negative experiences have left me with deep scars and will take years to heal.”

Olivia Vivian said “at times the gym was toxic” and recalled “lots of yelling and many forms of criticism”, saying she returned from the 2008 Olympics “a broken athlete and even worse, a broken person”.

“Change isn’t easy, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight,” she wrote.

“We have to accept and acknowledge it might take many years to rebuild, especially with a sport as difficult and time consuming as gymnastics.”

Britt Geeley said she was “called fat by (a) coach in front of a mirror with fellow gymnasts watching”, while Georgia Bonora described a “culture of fear created by people in power”.

Yasmin Collier said she was called a “fat, lazy pig” and continues to “struggle mentally and physically everyday from the things I had to endure.”

And there were many more who came forward.

Gymnastics Australia addresses allegations

On Wednesday Gymnastics Australia CEO Kitty Chiller responded, encouraging more athletes to come forward.

“Gymnastics Australia has zero tolerance to any form of abuse in our sport,” she said, praising those who have spoken out.

“While we have accomplished a lot in recent years, I know that our work in this area is not finished, and nor should it ever be.

“We acknowledge and applaud those who have spoken up — their courage and their voice.

Kitty Chiller, pictured here speaking to the media in Sydney.
Kitty Chiller speaks to the media in Sydney after the 2016 Olympics. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

“We see the passion that people have for the great things about our sport and we are grateful to all of you who want to help us make our sport as safe and supportive as it can be in the future.

“We are here to help you and to support you and we genuinely want to hear about your experiences and your suggestions.

“We acknowledge that speaking up is difficult. I want you to know that we are here to listen. And we are here to act.”

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.