Top gymnastics coach acknowledges history of abuse, mistreatment

Gymnastics: Rings hanging in a dark, empty gymnasium
Gymnastics: Rings hanging in a dark, empty gymnasiumshmeljovDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Former top Dutch gymnastics coach Gerrit Beltman admitted in an interview to routinely chastising and physically abusing young gymnasts whom he was tasked with developing. "I mistreated and humiliated young gymnasts to win medals. I am deeply ashamed,” admitted Beltman in an interview with Noordhollands Dagblad.

"The behavior I showed is in no way justifiable. I insisted on winning, at the expense of everything," he said. "Never have I consciously intended to hit, to curse, to hurt or to belittle. But it did happen. I was talked into that, to think it was the only way to cultivate a top-sport mentality. I blame myself for failing."

Top gymnasts Simone Heitinga and Stasja Köhler coauthored a book in which they alleged that Beltman claiming this behavior as being unintentional is a way to try and mitigate the abuse, according to a review from broadcaster NOS.

One former gymnast told the Noordhollands Dagblad that abuse in the Dutch gymnastics program began at an early age and was frequent. "You are constantly gripped with stress. You feel abused and your trust is betrayed all the time, but you don't know any better and you start to normalize it."

“You are deprived of your identity, you feel like a failure; social anxiety develops. Life becomes survival," another said.

Ten current and former gymnasts ranging in age from 18 to 41 shared similar stories with the newspaper, with one stating that they do not thing they ever felt human having been treated like an inanimate object throughout their career. Gymnasts revealed how this maltreatment happened and how it has affected them, telling of how they grew up in fear and terror often feeling forced to go beyond their physical ability to the point of pain and suffering.

The pages of stories from the gymnasts made Manon Crijns cringe. The deputy chair of Dutch gymnastics association KNGU told broadcaster NOS, "My stomach is turning." She said the stories have been previously reported to the KNGU, and she is looking at how they can prevent this behavior from athletic training in the future.

"This can never, and should never, happen again," she said.