Athlete A Documentary (Review)


2020 Documentary following USA Gymnastics and the abusive culture young girls were subjected to. A former Olympian said, “Emotional and physical abuse was actually the norm.”

This documentary is an expose on USA National Team Gymnastics and the abusive culture young girls were being subjected to every single day. Not only does it uncover the story of the sexual abuse from former doctor Larry Nassar, but also the brutal coaching methods of Bela and Marta Karolyi, and management knowing about the vulgar tendencies and ignoring it, and the overall safety and well-being of these young athletes.

Athlete A‘ uncovers the story of multiple highly-talented gymnasts whose voices were ignored and were beaten down through countless acts of abuse. Most of these young women were silenced, and were taught that their well being was not a priority. The USA National Team decided that Olympic Gold medals were worth hundreds of young girls being prey to sexual and emotional abuse for over 29 years.

Through interviews from former Olympians and members of the National team this documentary follows the train of events that led to Nassar’s arrest, the investigation of the USA Team franchise, along with the unique stories and perspectives from athletes.

Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk capture the small details that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Most of the coverage on this story focused on Nassar, however he wasn’t the only monster. The Karolyi’s weighed the athletes every day and called them “fat pigs” if they had gained weight. Their training camp was isolated and no outside contact was allowed. One of the former Olympians that was interviewed said, “The line between tough coaching and abuse gets blurred.” The Karolyi’s knew how to make winners, but the mental and emotional toll that it took from the athletes is longer lasting than a medal, and Cohen and Shenk wanted to show more of the behind the scenes.

One of the worst parts of this story is that the abuse didn’t go unnoticed or unreported to management. CEO Steve Penny’s focus was on the money and marketing. Child abuse was bad for sponsors and the ‘image’ for the U.S. Gymnastics brand. His failure to report the abuse is a violation of the law, and downright morally questionable that he would keep letting this happen to these girls.

Penny also lied to Maggie Nichols and her parents, assuring them he was taking care of it after they reported Nassar’s abuse. They kept quiet in coordination with the ‘FBI investigation’ and they didn’t want to risk Maggie’s chance of getting on the Olympic team. However when the time came, Maggie, though highly deserving, didn’t make the cut, and ended her National team career.

The most shocking moments for me personally was a quote from former Bronze Medalist Olympian Jaime Dantzscher, she said, “I wasn’t proud to be an Olympian.” A highly decorated champion who had achieved one of the highest honors a gymnast could achieve, and she wasn’t proud. That is devastatingly sad.

This documentary opens the eyes of it’s audience to the predators that are hurting others right under our noses, with flashy medals, and brand deals. Young athletes trusted Nassar, and parents trusted Penny and the Karolyis to make their girls amazing athletes, but also to have their best interest in mind. And the U.S. Gymnastics team failed both the parents, the athletes, and the purity of the success of the American team. We won the medals, we made world history in gymnastics, but what we took away was much greater.

This is streaming on Netflix, and was given 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Roger Ebert review gave it 4 and a half stars.

I would recommend this documentary to anyone who has an interest in gymnastics or learning more about the scandal itself. This gives an inside look into direct perspectives, and the full background of the dynasty that was the U.S Gymnastics team. Content is for more mature audiences. I enjoy documentaries a lot, I find them to be very engaging and intellectually challenging. This piece made me angry, angry that these things are happening in our world, especially to young girls most my age or younger. If a tragedy like this can do any good, it’s to inspire change. Athlete A is empowering young women and their courage to fight for themselves when no one else would, and that is the biggest takeaway I think I took from this documentary.