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Shocking testimonials about women’s gymnastics emerge again

(Ex) gymnasts do today in the weekly Smoke open a book about the humiliations in the gymnastics hall of the Ghent top sports school. An independent committee will submit a report at the end of March. And that can be ‘confronting’, says the gymnastics federation Gymfed.

Imke Wolthuizen has stopped gymnastics in the top sports school for three years and has already spent her birthday in hospital three times: admissions for an eating disorder or attempted suicide.

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Wolthuizen is only 19. She is one of about twenty young women who have Smoke talked about getting cracked by their trainers, hoping to someday get a fantastic gymnastics career in their place.

Wolthuizen brings back bitter memories of her trainer Sofie Naert. “If we injured ourselves, she immediately sent us to the scales,” says Wolthuizen. “‘Your feet can’t bear your weight, that’s why you’re in pain.” It was always our fault. (…) There were also acrobatic gymnasts at the boarding school, whose weight is even more important if possible. From I had seen them after it food ran to the toilet to vomit.

“That’s what I went too to do. I have never been to Ghent talked to someone about itken, the shame was too great. I thought it was my was to blame. I went farturns, so Sofie every time got so angry. ”


It is since this summer that there is a magnifying glass on the culture of top gymnastics. Article link

The ball got rolling then, in the aftermath of the Netflix documentary Athlete A, gymnasts worldwide under the hashtag #Gymnastalliance came out with stories about physical and mentally transgressive behavior by their coaches.

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The bomb exploded in Belgium due to an interview with coach Gerrit Beltman, who confessed that he had also gone too far. “I’m deeply ashamed now,” he said in it Noordhollands Dagblad. “I never had the conscious intention to hit, scold, hurt or belittle. But it did happen. ”

Between 2000 and 2008, Beltman was the coach of the gymnastics federation Gymfed, when it was still called the Vlaamse Turnliga. Ex-gymnast Tifany Annys now declares that she still had to continue gymnastics with a broken foot.

“Hopefully they won’t put your foot in a cast,” Gerrit called out, “otherwise you will have known.” In the hospital they put my foot in a cast. As a punishment I received three hours of fitness training: rope climbing, I could do that with a broken foot. ”

Aagje Vanwalleghem said this summer that the practices from the Beltman period are still common in top gymnastics. Gaelle Mys, who competed in the Beijing, London and Rio Games, then wrote on Instagram about how she left gymnastics after Rio disillusioned. “I’ve been bullied, lies been told and girls have been pitted against each other,” wrote Mys. “At the smallest mistake they called you fat, lazy, a liar, a baby, a princess, self-centered or tourist …”

Vanwalleghem and Mys wrote an open letter together with Dorien Motten and Laura Waem about the lack of guilt insight that would still exist in the current generation of coaches. Article link

The foursome also handed over a collection of testimonials to Flemish Minister of Sport Ben Weyts (N-VA).

Kieffer en Heuls

After Beltman’s departure, Yves Kieffer became the head coach. Although he had already been discredited in France by his heavy hand. Also the the way Kieffer and his wife Marjorie Heuls train athletes would have been too hard.

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The common thread through the periods of Beltman, Kieffer and Heuls seems that the behavior of the coaches was known to the higher ranks. Beltman’s “brutal treatment” with the athletes would have been the underlying reason why Beltman was dismissed, explains then Gymfed vice-president Gilbert Vercammen in Smoke.

Later complaints also arose. Yet it appears that with an anonymous report, which bundled complaints from seven people, nothing was done by the Gymfed. In those complaints Heul’s abuse of power and psychological transgressive behavior was accused.

Heuls and Kieffer are currently preparing at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, where Belgium with Nina Derwael has a serious contender for Olympic gold. Article link

The timing of this controversy is therefore quite inconvenient for them. Opposite Article link

The newspapaer Heuls and Kieffer said that they have already known “difficult moments”. They are now waiting for the report that an independent commission of inquiry will have at the end of March.


This committee was set up by Minister Weyts last summer. He took over the file because there was criticism of the way in which the Gymfed initially wanted to put together a committee. Article link

The minister emphasizes that the committee is not a disciplinary body. But on the basis of the report, the gymnastics federation or the new Flemish Sports Tribunal could take disciplinary measures.

“We believe the report’s findings could be painful and confronting,” said Ilse Arys, Gymfed’s general manager. “But the report also gives us the opportunity to get started with that advice, which is what we commit to. It is true that the timing is rather unfortunate now, as the Olympics is coming. But let’s be clear: the physical and mental integrity of athletes is paramount. ”

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