Greg Marsden, University of Utah gymnastics coach, confirmed Thursday that he took part in a plan to alter scores at the World Gymnastics Championships at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, last fall.
The incident, according to Marsden, was sensationalized in a Los Angeles Times story that ran Thursday morning that stated "Gymnastics officials from the United States and Romania conspired to fix scores." Basically, though, that's what happened, he said.Because of philosophical differences with U.S. Gymnastic Federation administrators, Marsden resigned as coach for the federation earlier this year. Since that time he has talked about things that need to be done to improve the sport. He's speaking out about various experiences he's had at the national and international level, even if it causes some of his colleagues to cringe and even if it also puts him in a bad light.
What happened at Rotterdam is that Marsden was approached by the Romanian coach with the proposal to help each other.
The Romanians wanted to beat the Russians. The United States didn't have a chance to finish first but if the U.S. judges would help the Romanian competitors by raising their scores a little and lowering the scores of the Russians a little, then the Romanian judges would raise the scores of the U.S. gymnasts, giving the United States women a chance to finish as high as fourth.
Suggested scores were exchanged and relayed to the respective judges. The agreement included two events the balance beam and floor exercise. U.S. and Romanian officials agreed to the plan, Marsden said.
It fell through for the United States, though, because the performances of the U.S. women were so poor it would have been too obvious if they had received high scores.
"I'm in no way trying to say I did the right thing. I'm not trying to say I didn't do something wrong. I'm just as guilty as everyone else," Marsden said.
And, if he had to do it over again, he might do the same thing. "I feel like my job is to take care of my athletes," he said. If everyone else is involved in cheating then the athletes who suffer are those who don't cheat, he added. "If I don't try to provide them the same advantage" then the U.S. athletes suffer in comparison to what's being done by other countries, he added.
"Everybody is doing it," he said. While the Romanians were making their alliance with the United States, the Russians were also making their alliances to try and get an edge on the Romanians, he added. When all the alliances are completed, the end result most of the time is that the people and individuals who are the best, win anyway, he said.
So, Marsden is speaking out, hoping that by calling attention to the problem it will be addressed and will keep from spreading. He fears it could start happening in national competition.
"We need to address it. I don't know how you can resolve them (problems) when you don't admit there's a problem," he said. "I'm not afraid to talk about it.
The abuses flourish, not just in gymnastics but all sports, because there is so much pressure to win. Marsden mentioned altering scores, blood doping, steroids, recruiting violations as some examples of the pressure.
"The degree it goes on depends on the stakes. The bigger the stakes the more it goes on. At best it's pushing to the limits of the rules; at worst, it's breaking the rules," Marsden said.
And the stakes are incredibly high in the Eastern bloc, he said. How a country does may determine whether or not those officials connected with the sport get a car, a nice place to live, etc. If they do worse than expected, all those things may be taken from them. "This is not fun and games to them. This is a business. Those people play it very seriously."
Marsden stress this is just not a problem in gymnastics. "The same thing happens in this country in football and basketball . . . Shoe contracts are at stake . . . there are incentives to push the limit, break rules."
He said he knew when he started talking about the incident that reporters would make it out to be a sensational story. "I have no regrets. I have no intention to hurt any individual. I'm trying to address issues that need to be corrected."