Mark Lee, coach of Salt Lake City Olympic gymnastics hopeful Melissa Marlowe, says fellow coach Bela Karolyi's comments about a particular gymnastics judge made on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" program last week could intimidate that judge and others who will work the coming U.S. Olympic trials in Salt Lake City.
"I want the Olympic trials to be a fair meet," says Lee. "I want the kids judged on the merits of their routines and not on their coach's credentials, and if they (judges) think a coach will try to have them removed, it will be harder for them to score fairly."Lee said Karolyi, who will have five athletes in the trials starting July 29 in the Salt Palace, "is intimidating judges, and the way he's doing it is going after upper echelon judges and calling them corrupt." Lee said Karolyi named brevat judge Delene Darst by name on TV. She's this country's highest-ranking judge.
"He criticized a specific judge," agreed U.S. Olympic Coach Don Peters, who also considered the comments as possibly intimidating, "and implied this person cheats."
"He has all the other judges scared to death," said Lee. "They do not want to be embarrassed by the most visible gymnastics coach in the world, and the feeling is that he has enough power that if he can get Delene Darst's judging power he would certainly have the power to have a less visible judge removed."
Lee wants the U.S. Gymnastics Federation to reprimand coaches who speak out in such a way.
"If I did that, I'd have the ruler in my hands all the time, because everyone does it in their own way," says USGF executive director Mike Jacki. "In terms of Bela making the comment, I didn't appreciate the comment. It's his own opinion. The bottom line is, it's just not good sports politics.
"My personal opinion is no coach should do it or has a right to attack any individual," Jacki said, but he'll not discipline Karolyi.
"Our judges do an excellent job," Jacki added. "The relations between coaches and judges tend to be strained at times."
Jacki says he's heard before that Karolyi tries to intimidate judges. "I think there's a dual affect. Some coaches say Bela intimidates the judges. When you talk to some of the judges, they feel the coaching community is watching them so closely whenever they score Bela's kids that they end up being harder on Bela's kids."
"The truth is," says Peters, "she's a very honest judge. She's dedicated her life to the sport. She does not deserve this kind of garbage."