Maggie Nichols was a USA Gymnastics athlete whose Olympic dreams were crushed after becoming the first person to report allegations of sexual abuse against Dr. Larry Nassar and became “Athlete A.”
“Athlete A,” a Netflix documentary, details the investigation into Nassar and decades of sexual abuse revealed at his trial. In addition, it looks into systemic cover-ups and delays in reporting the abuse by USA gymnastics and Michigan State University. “Athlete A” aired on Netflix Wednesday, June 24, 2020, and was trending again in February 2021 as more viewers discovered the documentary. Read more about Athlete A, Maggie Nichols, here. John Geddert, who coached the 2012 US Olympic women’s gymnastics team, was found dead February 24, 2021 after he was charged with 24 felonies in connection with the abuse of young gymnasts, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced. Geddert was 63. Read more about Nassar’s life in prison here. Read more about the cover-up and former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny here.
Although Nichols was unable to pursue her Olympic dreams, she had a dazzling career with USA Gymnastics and went on to compete in NCAA gymnastics. Now, Nichols is known as “The Michael Jordan of college gymnastics,” according to an ESPN profile.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Maggie Nichols Reported Larry Nassar‘s Abuse After Her Coach Overheard a Conversation With Aly Raisman
Dr. Larry Nassar‘s extensive abuse of hundreds of athletes came to light following a conversation Maggie Nichols had with USA Gymnastics teammate Aly Raisman. Nichols’ longtime elite coach, Sarah Jantzi, took Nichols aside to ask her some questions, Nichols wrote in a letter identifying herself as Athlete A.
“After hearing our conversation she asked me more questions about it and said it doesn’t seem right,” Nichols wrote. “I showed her the Facebook messages and told her about what Nassar was doing. My coach thought it was wrong, so she did the right thing and reported this abuse to the USA Gymnastics staff. USA Gymnastics and the USOC did not provide a safe environment for me and my teammates to train. We were subjected to Dr. Nassar at every National Team Camp which occurred monthly at the Karolyi Ranch. His job was to care for our health and treat our injuries. Instead, he violated our innocence.”
Nichols first reported Nassar’s sexual abuse in 2015, but USA Gymnastics did not report the allegations to authorities until the third athlete came forward, according to The Norman Transcript. USA Gymnastics reported Nichols’ account five weeks after she first made USA Gymnastics aware off the abuse.
Nassar’s abuse started decades earlier at Michigan State University. The university was ordered to pay $4.5 million in fines last year by the U.S. Department of Education for “systemic failure” to address the sexual abuse, NPR reported.
2. Maggie Nichols Disclosed She Was Athlete A in a Powerful Letter With the Support of Her Oklahoma University Coach
Maggie Nichols revealed that she was Athlete A in a public letter she wrote during her sophomore year of college at the University of Oklahoma in 2018. She had the support and assistance of her coach and others, including her OU coach, K.J. Kindler. Kindler assisted her in writing the letter, according to The Norman Transcript.
You can read Nichols’ letter in full here.
“Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and Michigan State University. I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols,” she wrote.
Nassar began treating Nichols when she was 13, but the abuse did not begin until she was 15, she wrote in the letter. At 15, she was experiencing severe back pain and could not bend down. She went to Nassar for a treatment, and he drew the blinds closed. She thought this was strange, but did not question him because he was a trusted adult in her life and highly regarded by USA Gymnastics.
“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should,” she wrote. “He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain. He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions. Not only was Larry Nassar my doctor, I thought he was my friend. He contacted me on Facebook complimenting me and telling me how beautiful I looked on numerous occasions. But I was only 15 and I just thought he was trying to be nice to me. Now I believe this was part of the grooming process I recently learned about.”
3. Maggie Nichols Had Dreams of Competing at the Olympics Beginning When She Was 3
Maggie Nichols started her gymnastics career at age 3, and at that time, she already had dreams of becoming an Olympic gymnast, she wrote in a letter. She achieved elite levels at age 13, and at 14, she landed a spot on the USA National Team. She traveled internationally and competed for four years, representing the USA at the 2015 World Championships.
She helped lead the team to gold in the 2015 world championships, and was considered a favorite for a spot on the Olympics roster, ESPN reported. Gina Nichols, Maggie Nichols mother, believes she was left off the 2016 Rio Olympics roster as punishment for reporting the abuse.
Nichols’ Olympic dreams were solidified when she was 9, she told ESPN.
“My wish in the wishing bowl was always that,” she said. “I remember so vividly wanting it when I would throw the penny.”
Nichols finished third in the all-around event at the 2014 U.S. Classic and P&G Championships and in three international competitions. The following year, which was the most crucial in an Olympic cycle, Nichols finished second in the all-around, just behind Simone Biles at the national championships. Team Coordinator Marta Karolyi told ESPN that Nichols did not make the Olympics roster because she did not score in the top three for any event.
4. The Coronavirus Pandemic Ended Maggie Nichols’ Gymnastics Career at the University of Oklahoma & She Retired in July
Maggie Nichols’ gymnastics career with the Sooners of the University of Oklahoma came to an abrupt halt with the coronavirus pandemic. She was a senior when COVID-19 hit, and the athletic year came to a close with a meeting in March, ESPN reported. At the time, she was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the all-around and on vault. She had plans to cement her spot as one of the greatest NCAA gymnasts of all time, and she was ready to help lead the Sooners to a second-straight NCAA championship and win her third straight all-around national title.
“I think we had so much left to show everyone, and we were still climbing up that mountain,” Nichols told ESPN. “We were almost on the top, so [it] was very sad because everyone wants that opportunity to go to Big 12, and then regionals, then nationals, and to ultimately win that national championship ring.”
She announced her retirement from elite gymnastics on Instagram July 13, 2020. She described the decision as the hardest she has ever had to make, but said it was right for her.
“I have been so blessed to be able to represent the United States in multiple international competitions and the World championships and becoming a world champion,” she wrote. “I’ve gone through so many injuries and hard times, and I’ve been through so many good times and I’ve learned so many incredible life lessons I wouldn’t have been able to learn without my elite career. Words can’t even describe the things I’ve been through. Looking back it’s such an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful I was able to experience all of that. I can’t thank my coaches and my parents enough for everything they have done for me, and sacrificed for me. Also thank you to all of you for all the love and support throughout my elite career, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you all.”
5. Maggie Nichols Is One of NCAA’s Best Gymnasts in History & Simone Biles Calls Her ‘the Michael Jordan of College Gymnastics’
Although gymnastics dashed Maggie Nichols’ dreams twice, first with the sexual abuse of Dr. Larry Nassar and again with a halt to sports during her senior year at the University of Oklahoma, she leaves a legacy as one of the best NCAA gymnasts of all time. She made history as the first gymnast to score multiple marks of 39.9 or higher, according to her Sooner Sports profile. She had career highs of 10 in vault, bars, beam and floor with an all-around 39.925 score.
“Big 12 Gymnast of the Year…Five-time first-team WCGA All-American…” her Sooner Sports profile says. “Five-time All-Big 12 selection (vault, bars, beam, floor, all-around)…AAU Sullivan Award Semifinalist…Ranked No. 1 in the all-around and on vault to end the season…Finished the year ranked No. 2 on bars…Tallied five perfect 10s on the season to bring her career total to 22…Ranks fourth all-time for career perfect 10s in NCAA History…Six-time Big 12 Gymnast of the Week…Tallied a season-high 39.900 in the all-around (Jan. 20) and is the only gymnast in NCAA history with multiple marks of 39.900 or higher…Secured 28 event titles, including six on vault, seven on bars, five on beam, five on floor and five in the all-around…Competed in 10 of 11 meets for the Sooners…Tallied a 9.9 or higher on 31 of 34 routines…Tallied a 9.9 or higher on all 10 bar routines…Recorded four perfect marks on vault and one on bars…Earned a 39.625 or better in the all-around six times…Finished with the top three all-around scores in the nation with a 39.900, 39.850 and 39.825.”
Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles, and Nichols’ teammate with USA Gymnastics, described Nichols as “the Michael Jordan of College Gymnastics in an interview with ESPN.
“Maggie Nichols is the Michael Jordan of college gymnastics,” Biles said. “It’s been amazing watching her growth and seeing her become the ultimate example of what it means to compete in NCAA gymnastics.”
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