Athlete A is a no-holds-barred documentary into the abuse meted to Olympic athletes by team USA Gymnastics’ staff over two decades.
Following a team of investigative journalists from The Indianapolis Star newspaper, it details centres on team doctor Larry Nassar assaulting young female gymnasts. However, what is equally shocking is the coaching culture that enabled him to thrive.
…America’s win-at-all-costs dream is fried under Athlete A‘s unrelenting magnifying glass.
In a remote training camp where parents are forcibly excluded, former Romanian coaches Bela and Márta Károlyi enforce a culture of secrecy and discipline. Having coached Olympic star Nadia Comăneci to multiple gold medals, America wanted that winning form and effectively Károlyis were given carte blanche to recreate it. However, with the arrival of Nadia Comăneci, something else had happened. Instead of gymnastics being seen as purely an adult discipline, the emphasis forever switched to children. Younger, more malleable and quicker to recover from injury, this sea change was not only perfect for the Károlyis’ autocratic teaching style but also for the friendly-but-predatory attentions of physician Larry Nassar.
With the line between tough coaching and sexual abuse conveniently blurred, USA Gymnastics (like Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania before them) only cared about one thing: gold medals. For a similarly insecure country where being seen to be winners is of paramount importance, any dissent is covered up with smiles as practised as his athlete’s dismounts.
As an exposé into abuse and the toxic culture that enabled it, Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s documentary is essential viewing. Using personal interviews with all those affected and newsreel and archival footage of those responsible, America’s win-at-all-costs dream is fried under Athlete A‘s unrelenting magnifying glass.