In an interview with The New York Times, Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez detailed the years of emotional and verbal abuse she suffered under coach Maggie Haney. USA Gymnastics has now suspended Haney from the sport for eight years.
The interview sheds light on abuse that, according to Hernandez, “was all just so twisted that I thought it couldn’t be real.” When Haney would scream at her for small mistakes, push her to practice through serious injuries or berate her for gaining weight, Hernandez blamed herself and assumed that this was how all Olympians were made.
“I thought I deserved all of it,” Hernandez said. “The toughest part about it was that there were no bruises or marks to show that it was real.”
According to Hernandez, puberty was an especially challenging time in the gym.
“Maggie was saying to me, ‘You already have a boxy body type, so we’re going to have to keep an eye on your weight,’ or shout, ‘You’re so busty!’ for everyone to hear.”
When Hernandez began binge-eating and purging, Haney would praise her for losing weight.
“Any compliment was like holy water,” Hernandez said. “It went from one day walking on eggshells with her to her saying the next day that ‘we’re in this together.’ She really knew how to mess with your head.”
After the years of abuse, Hernandez said that she struggled with “full-on major depression” and “a ginormous fear of doing something wrong, perfectionism to the extreme.” Hernandez has since moved to California and began treatment for her depression.
Under the guidance of new coaches Jenny Zhang and Howie Liang, Hernandez has found her love for gymnastics once again. “Whether I make it to Tokyo or not, I’m doing something I love on my own terms,” said Hernandez, “and people treat me the way I want to be treated, and that makes me happy.”
After coming forward with the allegations and testifying at the hearings for USA Gymnastics, Hernandez is content with Haney’s suspension.
“I thought they were just going to try to sweep it under the rug,” she said of USA Gymnastics. “But, wow, they did the right thing. I can’t believe they actually did the right thing.”
When asked how she felt after testifying against her longtime coach, Hernandez confessed that she was initially uneasy but once other gymnasts confirmed the abuse, she realized she wasn’t alone.
“It was really nice to finally tell people what happened,” said Hernandez. “I did it for little Laurie and all the little kids out there.”