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Ex-US Olympics gymnastics coach kills himself after abuse charges – Al Jazeera English

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A former United States Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar killed himself on Thursday, hours after being charged with turning his Michigan gym into a hub of human trafficking by coercing girls to train and then abusing them.

John Geddert faced 24 charges that could have carried years in prison had he been convicted. He was supposed to appear in an Eaton County court, near Lansing, but his body was found at a rest area along Interstate 96, according to state police.

“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Nessel earlier announced  Geddert was charged with several crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal enterprise. The charges were the latest fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison.

Geddert, 63, was not arrested and transported to court. Rather, Nessel’s office allowed him to show up on his own.

“We had no indication that Geddert intended to flee or hurt himself or others. We had been in contact with his attorney and were assured of his cooperation,” Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.

Calls seeking comment from lawyer Chris Bergstrom were not immediately returned.

Geddert was head coach of the 2012 US women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He was long associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team’s doctor and also treated injured gymnasts at Twistars, Geddert’s Lansing-area gym.

Among the charges, Geddert was accused of lying to investigators in 2016 when he denied ever hearing complaints about Nassar. But the bulk of the case against him involved his gym in Dimondale and how he treated the young athletes whose families paid to have them train under him.

The charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar, said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark.

Geddert was charged with using his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labour of young athletes.

“The victims suffer from disordered eating,” Nessel said, “including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault.

“Many of these victims still carry these scars from this behaviour to this day,” the attorney general said.

Nessel acknowledged the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.

“We think of it predominantly as affecting people of colour or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “Young impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial wellbeing of their families.”

Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. He told families in 2018 that he was retiring.

Victims and others look on as Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

USA Gymnastics said in a statement late on Thursday news about the charges against Geddert would “lead to justice through the legal process”.

“With the news of his death by suicide, we share the feelings of shock, and our thoughts are with the gymnastics community as they grapple with the complex emotions of today’s events,” the organisation said.

On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan gymnastics history”. He said his Twistars teams won 130 club championships.

But Geddert was often portrayed in unflattering ways when Nassar’s victims spoke during court hearings in 2018. Some insisted he was aware of the doctor’s abuse.

Sarah Klein, a gymnast who trained under Geddert for more than 10 years and was assaulted by Nassar, said the coach’s death was an “escape from justice” and “traumatising beyond words”.

“His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see,” said Klein, a lawyer.

Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, said she was proud of the women who stepped forward against Geddert.

“So much pain and grief for everyone,” she said on Twitter after his death. “To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you.”

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Belarus Olympian describes Tokyo ordeal after arriving in Poland – Al Jazeera English

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Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has said she showed the police in Tokyo a translated plea for help on her phone as she sought to avoid being forced on a plane back home amid fears for her safety.

The 24-year-old sprinter refused to board a flight headed for Minsk via Istanbul on Sunday after being hustled to the Japanese capital’s Haneda airport against her wishes because she had publicly criticised her Olympic team’s management.

After seeking protection from the Japanese police, she flew to Poland instead of Belarus on Wednesday.

Poland, which has long been critical of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and harboured many activists from Belarus, has granted Tsimanouskaya and her husband humanitarian visas.

Describing her ordeal publicly for the first time, the athlete told Reuters news agency on Thursday that her family feared she would be sent to a psychiatric ward if she went back to Belarus, and that her grandmother had called her to tell her not to return.

“Grandmother called me when they were already driving me to the airport,” Tsimanouskaya said. “I had some 10 seconds. She called me, all that she told me was, ‘Please do not come back to Belarus, it’s not safe.’”

‘I am not afraid’

Sunday’s standoff began after Tsimanouskaya publicly complained that she had been registered by her coaches to participate in a race she had never competed in: the 4×400 metres relay.

She said she was then barred from competing in the 200 metres scheduled to take place on Monday and withdrawn from the Tokyo Games altogether by her team’s officials.

Tsimanouskaya said she had told her coach on Sunday that she was ready to run in the 200 metres, but he then went to make a call.

“And in [a] couple of hours the head coach came to me with the team representative and they said there was a decision made to send me home, we are not the ones who made the decision, we are only executing it. You have 40 minutes. You have to pack your things and go to the airport,” she added.

The decision, she added, came from “high up”.

The Belarus National Olympic Committee had said coaches withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the games on doctors’ advice about her emotional and psychological state.

At the airport in Tokyo, the coaches were taken by surprise, the athlete said.

“They did not expect that in the airport I can approach the police. They think that we are scared to make a move, that we are afraid to speak, afraid to tell the truth to the whole world. But I am not afraid,” Tsimanouskaya said.

The International Olympic Committee has started an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case and said it was set to hear from the two Belarusian officials allegedly involved.

Crackdown

Before going to Tokyo, Tsimanouskaya was not among the few Belarusian Olympians who publicly voiced support for the opposition to Lukashenko, who is under Western sanctions after a crackdown on opponents since last year.

Opposition figures have been prosecuted, jailed or fled since mass protests against his rule erupted following an August 2020 election that handed Lukashenko a sixth presidential term, but observers and Belarus’s political opposition denounced it as rigged.

“I have always been far from politics, I didn’t sign any letters or go to any protests, I didn’t say anything against the Belarusian government,” Tsimanouskaya said.

“It may sound cruel because of all the terrible things that happened in Belarus last summer but I was trying to keep away from it … all I have wanted is to go to the Olympics and do my best,” she said.

Sports play a high-profile role in Belarusian politics under Lukashenko, who headed the Belarus Olympic Committee until he was replaced by his son this year.

Tsimanouskaya said she hoped to be able to continue her sporting career in the future and eventually return to Belarus.

“I love my country. I did not betray it,” she said.

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Canada's Damian Warner extends decathlon lead with another Olympic best – CBC.ca

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Canada’s Damian Warner picked up right where he left off in the decathlon. Now, he’s two events away from a gold medal.

The London, Ont., native recorded an Olympic best — his third through eight events in Tokyo — with a time of 13.46 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles on Thursday in Japan. He then posted the third-farthest discus throw in the field at 48.67 metres and cleared a personal-best 4.90 metres in pole vault to maintain his spot atop the decathlon standings.

Warner now sits at 7,490 points, comfortably ahead of 21-year-old Australian Ashley Moloney in second (7,269).

“You go through the whole battle of the decathlon and when you finally finish and you get the result you’re looking for, there’s no greater feeling. If I finish this off, this is a dream come true,” Warner said.

The Canadian said he was particularly pleased with his pole vault, giving credit to his coaches for helping him improve one of his weaker events.

“They’ve been persistent and stuck with me, and I think there’s a lot more bars in my future, but I’m really happy with how today went and it’s time to finish this thing off,” Warner said.

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WATCH | Warner clears personal-best 4.90 metres in pole vault:

London, Ont., native Damian Warner stays in first place after 8 events in the decathlon with a personal best 4.90m in pole vault. Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., holds on to third place with a vault of 5.00m. 4:32

Fellow Canadian Pierce LePage, a 25-year-old making his Olympic debut, was fifth in Warner’s hurdles heat, seventh overall in discus and eighth in pole vault, but still managed to hold on to his third-place standing entering the day.

LePage’s 7,175 points put him just ahead of decathlon world-record holder and reigning silver medallist Kevin Mayer of France, who is sitting fourth at 7,129.

“If you’re doing not bad in most of your decathlon then you know something good is going to happen at the end,” LePage, of Whitby, Ont., said.

WATCH | Warner wins 110m hurdles:

Damian Warner of London, Ont., won the 110m hurdles portion of the decathlon by running to an Olympic best time of 13.46 seconds. After six events Warner sits in first place, with fellow Canadian Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., in third place. 5:39

In hurdles, Warner sped to the front of the pack quickly and never relinquished his lead, despite knocking a gate over in the process. He waved and said hi to partner Jen Cotten, their son Theo and his mom after he crossed the finish line.

Despite the Olympic best, Warner himself has done better, setting the world-best of 13.36 seconds at the Hypo-Meeting in Austria in May. That time helped the Canadian set a national record of 8,995 points overall — the fourth best in history.

LePage, of Whitby, Ont., posted a time of 14.39 seconds in the hurdles. His personal best is 14.05. He threw 47.14 metres in discus, also well off his personal best of 50.28.

Warner also fell short of both his career best (50.26) and season best (48.74) in discus, with his first throw standing as his top result.

Pole vault has previously caused Warner problems, like at the 2019 Commonwealth Games when he failed to record a height. But the 31-year-old persevered after missing his first two attempts at 4.90 metres to clear his third. Moloney, who cleared five metres, only gained 30 points on the Canadian in the event.

LePage, who said the heat in Tokyo was more excruciating for the pole vault because of the length of the event, also cleared five metres.

“Want to do better in all three [events] but they weren’t too off where I wanted to be. That pole vault was something I’ve never experienced before — really hot out there. But nothing you can do besides look forward to the next two events and make up those points,” he said.

Javelin,1,500m still to come

The decathlon wraps up with javelin and the 1,500-metre beginning Thursday at 6:15 a.m. ET.

Thursday’s results extended Warner’s lead in the competition where the top-ranked decathlete is eyeing his first Olympic gold medal. Warner earned bronze at the 2016 Rio Games.

Warner is coming off an extraordinary winter that saw him train in an empty, unheated hockey arena that his coaches converted to a multi-events facility after COVID-19 shut down the University of Western Ontario fieldhouse. He and his coaches built a long jump pit, brought in a pole jump pit, built a throwing circle and laid down a 40-metre section of track.

On Wednesday in Tokyo, Warner tied his decathlon world-best in the 100-metre, then put down a long jump of 8.24 metres, 0.04 off his world best and an Olympic record in the sport.

WATCH | Warner ties 100m world best:

Damian Warner of London, Ont., matched his world decathlon best time of 10.12 seconds in the 100-metre portion of the Olympic men’s decathlon. Fellow Canadian Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., finished third overall with a time of 10.43. 4:43

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Canada's Vincent-Lapointe wins silver in C-1 200m – Yahoo Canada Sports

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TOKYO — Laurence Vincent-Lapointe’s long, winding road to the Tokyo Olympics has led her to the podium. 

The Canadian canoeist won silver in the final of the women’s C-1 200-metre race at a sweltering Sea Forest Waterway on Wednesday. 

The 29-year-old paddler from Trois-Rivières, Que., finished the sprint in a time of 46.786 seconds. 

“I pushed until the end,” Vincent-Lapointe said. “No matter how many people I thought were catching up to me, I was just like, ‘No, no, no. You cannot drop, you cannot let go. Just push until the end.’

“It’s just crazy. I have 13 world championships, but this silver at the Games is so different.”

Nevin Harrison (45.932) of the United States took the gold, while Ukraine’s Liudmyla Luzan (47.034) claimed bronze in temperatures that felt like a staggering 44 C with the humidity on a windy Tokyo Bay. 

Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., finished 8th with a time of 47.834 seconds. 

“We push each other a lot, especially on the water,” said 25-year-old. “That teamwork goes a long way on a day like today. I’m disappointed I can’t be on the podium.

“But to see a Canadian flag rise today is a huge plus and something I think all Canadians in the paddling community will remember.” 

A dominant canoeing force for more than a decade, Vincent-Lapointe had to wait for the sport’s international federation and the International Olympic Committee to make room for women to race at the Olympics. 

That finally happened in Japan. 

She had won a combined six world titles in C-1 and C-2 500 metres by the time women’s canoe was added to the Olympics in 2017 ahead of the Tokyo Games, and went on to win five more by the end of 2018. 

But then her life and career descended into controversy. 

Vincent-Lapointe had an “adverse analytical finding” in July 2019 during an out-of-competition drug test. She was suspended and missed the 2019 world championship, but battled for reinstatement. 

The International Canoe Federation cleared her to compete in January 2020, accepting that Vincent-Lapointe was the victim of third-party contamination of a banned substance. 

The ICU believed her assertion that a trace amount of ligandrol was transferred to her via her ex-boyfriend’s body fluids. 

“I had the feeling I would make (the Olympics),” Vincent-Lapointe said. “In my head … I was like probably, ‘Fake it ’til you make it.’ In my head I was trying to convince myself, ‘You’re going to be at the Games, you’re going to be at the Games.’

“Even the darkest moments I just clung to it, to that feeling. It was so relieving when I finally got my spot in. It was just like, ‘All right, I had the right to believe in myself that I would make it to the Games.’ But once I came here I was like, ‘All right, you made it to the Games, now do your best.'” 

And while COVID-19 was a devastating gut-punch to sports and society around the world, it gave Vincent-Lapointe an opportunity to get back in the groove. 

Missing the 2019 worlds, however, meant she still had to qualify for Tokyo, and the global pandemic didn’t allow her to travel to North American qualifying events. 

Vincent-Lapointe also lost to Vincent in the women’s C-1 200 metres at March’s national trials in Burnaby, B.C. 

Canoe Kayak Canada declined to send paddlers to international World Cups this spring because of the pandemic, but ultimately awarded Vincent-Lapointe an Olympic quota spot following a performance review. 

Next up for Vincent-Lapointe and Vincent is the women’s C-2, where they are medal contenders, on Friday and Saturday. 

In other races involving Canadians on Thursday, kayakers Brian Malfesi of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Vincent Jourdenais Ste-Basile-le-Grand, Que., were sixth in the ‘B’ final of the men’s K-2 1,000 metres, while Toronto’s Nicholas Matveev was sixth in the ‘B’ final of the men’s K-1 200 metres. 

But the day — clearly — belonged to Vincent-Lapointe.

“Going through all I had to go through the last two years, if you’d ask me if I’d do it again, even knowing a silver medal comes at the end of this, I’m not sure I would say yes,” she said in French. “It was extremely difficult. 

“Everybody told me this week that with all I went through, I must be mentally the strongest here.”

Now she has a silver medal to prove it.

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