How college gymnastics turned Ohashi’s career around

Ohashi competing at the AT&T American Cup in 2013

In the gymnastics world, the name Larry Nassar is known as something evil. Nassar is the United States of America (USA) women’s gymnastics team doctor who was found to have sexually abused hundreds of female gymnasts over the span of two decades since the 1990s.

But he wasn’t the only person who abused female gymnasts.

Ohashi on beam at the American Cup

For years, female gymnasts have faced many types of abuse by their coaches and other authority figures. Not only was the abuse sexual, it was also physical, emotional and mental.

One of these female gymnasts was Katelyn Ohashi.

Growing up in Seattle, Washington and Kansas City, Missouri, Ohashi began the sport of gymnastics at the age of three.

Ohashi at a Kellogg’s Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships practice in 2012 – Photo by Michael O’Leary/The Herald

By the age of 12, Ohashi was going places. She competed in the 2009 Junior Olympic National Championships. She competed at the National Championships in Dallas Texas later that year and was named to the US junior national team.

Following nationals in Dallas, Ohashi moved to Plano, Texas, to train at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, (WOGA).

Ohashi competing at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2019 – Photo by Amanda McCoy

Over the next three years, under the tutelage of head coach Valeri Liukin, Ohashi won medal after medal at many elite competitions. In 2011, at the national championships, Ohashi won the junior all-around, essentially allowing her to beat defending champion Kyla Ross.

 Although Ohashi won nationals that year at the age of 14, the element of difficulty in her routines was grueling, with some people saying Liukin was pushing Ohashi too fast at the age she was to perform difficult skills. Her beam routine at Nationals,  for which she won first place, was one of the most difficult in the world, featuring a full-twisting back layout, a standing Arabian, an Onodi and a piked full-in dismount.

Ohashi had been competing with a back injury at this competition – Photo by Charles Krupa

Ohashi then followed that up by winning the AT&T American Cup in 2013, defeating teammate Simone Biles.

To put it into perspective, Biles is currently the most decorated American gymnast with a total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, and the potential to earn more as she will be competing at the 2021 Olympics.

Following the American Cup competition, Ohashi had shoulder surgery due to an injury. The following year, she expressed concern she may not continue competing elite due to injuries. She later tore both shoulders and injured her spine which resulted in her dropping back down to level 10.

Ohashi competing beam at the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships in 2012 – Photo by Jennifer Buchanan/The Herald

Ohashi had competed at the American Cup with her back injury. She had beaten one of the most up-and-coming elite gymnasts in Biles, with a back injury.

At one competition, Ohashi messed up on the first two events, and her coach at the time, Liukin, psychologically abused her by not coaching her for the rest of the competition and giving her the silent treatment.

During her time recovering from injuries, Ohashi began putting on weight and fat and began getting criticism from fans, coaches, and even her friends.

“When I was 14, I started hearing comments about my weight: ‘You look like you swallowed an elephant.’ ‘You look like a pig.’ ‘Your face is three times the size it was this morning.’ ‘You remind me of a bird that’s too big to fly.’ People whose opinions I valued said this to me,” Ohashi said in an interview with ESPN the magazine in 2019.

“There were times I couldn’t even get through a floor routine because I was so exhausted. I would fall, and my coach would be like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I’m like, ‘All I’ve had today are raspberries.’ And they looked at me like it wasn’t an issue,” Ohashi added.

When Ohashi did eventually step down from the sport altogether, she was happy.

Ohashi competing on floor at the 2019 PAC-12 Championships

“It was such a relief because I had been so miserable for so long. Since quitting wasn’t an option, I thought maybe this injury was my way out. I didn’t want to go near the sport again. I felt like I didn’t know who I was.”

But after a year of missing the sport she had spent her whole life in, Ohashi called up University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins head coach Valorie Kondos Field (Miss Val), and thus began her National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) gymnastics career.

One of Ohashi’s teammates, Madison Kocian, had told her about UCLA and Miss Val – Photo by Damian Dovarganes

At UCLA, Ohashi’s happiness for the sport came back and she wasn’t pressured to look a perfect way.

While at UCLA, Ohashi became a sensation, especially on floor. In January of 2019, one of Ohashi’s floor routines went viral and was viewed on YouTube more than five million times. Ohashi eventually finished her collegiate career with 11 perfect 10 routines.

I first became a fan of Ohashi when I stumbled upon a video of her viral YouTube video one week ago. I then began browsing more videos of Ohashi to watch her compete because I was so mesmerized by her beauty and her form in the air.

Ohashi competing on the uneven bars at the American Cup

When I stumbled upon videos of Ohashi at the 2013 American Cup, I noticed some red flags. I noticed that Ohashi looked stressed and sad in all the videos of her competing in elite. But when I looked at videos of her competing for UCLA, the change was like night and day. She was vibrant, she looked happy during her routines, and she was smiling so brightly it was contagious right through the computer screen.

I would also read the comments on YouTube and when I read about how she was pushed and abused by her coach and how she was body shamed following her injuries, I was appalled.

At UCLA, one of Ohashi’s floor routines went viral and received over five million views on YouTube – Photo by Ricky Lee/UCLA

Ohashi was a beautiful girl competing in a sport at the elite (ELITE!!) level when she was being body shamed. What kind of a person body shames a fit, 14-year-old girl competing in a sport that the troll has probably never competed in!!!??? It was unbelievable. Not only was she being body shamed by her friends, but her coaches were managing what she ate so that she stayed a certain size for the sport. Because in a lot of gymnastics coach’s mentality, the perfect gymnast is someone who is thin and small. But because Ohashi was not thin and an image of people’s ideal gymnast, she got shamed.

Watching her videos on YouTube and browsing through photos of her online, I can say one thing. Ohashi is a gorgeous young woman. She is beautiful and, in my opinion, she has a perfect body size.

As someone who has been a little big myself, I immediately fell in love with how inspirational Ohashi is and has been to girls starting out in the sport. Ohashi’s story shows young girls that it’s okay to be thick and anyone with any body type can compete in any sport they wish to compete in if they love it.

At UCLA, Ohashi scored two perfect 10s on beam and nine on floor – Photo by Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff

Currently, Ohashi is building a platform on her social media accounts as an advocate for body acceptance, among other things.

Ohashi now has a fan for life in me and I wish her nothing but the best in her advocacy and her life.

Ohashi was known for her vibrant energy whenever she took to the floor – Photo by Susie Butler

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