US gymnast Laurie Hernandez says abusive coach deterred her from competing

Olympic champion gymnast Laurie Hernandez has spoken out about the 11 years of verbal and emotional abuse she suffered under a former US Olympic team coach, which she says delayed her comeback to the sport.

On Wednesday USA Gymnastics suspended Maggie Haney for eight years, after Hernandez and two other gymnasts reportedly gave testimonies against her in front of an independent panel as well as a Safe Sport panel.

Hernandez, 19, then turned to social media on Thursday to “share her story with the world”. The Rio 2016 gold and silver medallist outlined details of a decade of abuse from “a person” who fat-shamed her and forced her to train injured, which led her to suffer from panic attacks.

“The idea of sharing my story with the world feels extremely nerve wrecking and vulnerable… but after hearing positive results last night from the panel, I felt that sharing my story could help others, or at least raise awareness to emotional and verbal abuse,” Hernandez wrote in an Instagram post.

“I had many experiences that led to multiple panic attacks where I’d just stand in front of the equipment and… cry. Hard… There would be mornings that I’d cry as soon as I’d wake up, worried about the yelling and anger that lied ahead for the day.

“I tried to tell this person that their reactions made me uncomfortable and distressed, or that their loaded words hurt, or that that style of coaching didn’t work for me. The response was always along the lines of, ‘I’ve never done that’, ‘That never happened’, ‘You’re making things up’, ‘You’re too sensitive’, ‘Stop taking things so personally’.

“She’d humiliate me in front of others, constantly make comments about me gaining weight, have me work out on multiple injuries, curse at me, point out the way I cried in front of others, and much more that goes beyond my own words.”

The USAG’s decision on Wednesday to suspend Haney, who had been on interim suspension since January, comes almost four years after Hernandez first filed an official complaint against the coach in the autumn of 2016, months after the Rio Olympics.