Coach Mary Wright on the Line After Abuse Accusations

Despite having developed dozens of gymnasts into Olympians and college competitors, gymnastics coach Mary Wright has a hidden dark past.

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By Saadat Rafin

It’s natural that athletes strive to be the best at their respective sports, even if they must endure great pains in doing so. This desire for greatness, however, becomes dangerous when coaches use it as a tool for manipulation. Such was the case with former Olympian Mary Wright, a seasoned gymnastics coach from New Zealand. Wright founded Olympus Gymnastics, a gymnastics program based in Utah, in 1993, which was immensely successful. Many gymnasts who trained under Wright were offered scholarships to prestigious institutions, with some even making the Olympics. On the surface, Wright was an ordinary gymnastics coach with an eye for talent. But as was recently discovered, there’s a lot more to the story.

Contrary to her seeming appearance, Wright has a dark past behind her, a reality that is currently being unraveled through a recent lawsuit filed against her by Hailee Hoffman, a former gymnast at Stanford University. According to The New York Times, “training under Wright caused [Hoffman] panic attacks, depression, a recurring battle with bulimia, and a damaged self-esteem…Wright had publicly ridiculed her, calling her stupid, lazy and fat, and pressured her to train while injured, including on what turned out to be two broken ankles.”

Hoffman, however, was not the only gymnast who suffered at the hands of Wright’s abusive coaching. “[Wright] would be downright mean, awful and hurtful to the girls, and it was almost like she wanted to see how badly she could emotionally degrade those kids or physically break them,” Kellie Land, a parent one of Wright’s former gymnasts, explained.

Several former and current gymnasts have since shared horrific stories about the emotional and physical abuse Wright has caused them—abuse so extreme that many of them, including Hoffman, quit the sport altogether.

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that Wright is just one of many abusive coaches. It is becoming common practice for coaches, especially in girls’ sports, to impose unhealthy regimens onto young athletes that undermine natural development. This behavior is especially damaging, as it perpetuates a toxic environment in which athletes are pressured to look and act a certain way, a dangerous situation that is further amplified by the growing presence of social media. It’s no surprise that many girls suffer severe mental and physical trauma years after these experiences occur, significantly lowering self-confidence and self-worth.

Though it is not easy, it is important for young athletes to speak about their struggles and erase the stigma associated with abusive sports environments. “I know so many gymnasts who won’t speak out because they are still scared of Mary,” Hoffman said. “It tells you something about the system and how the abuse of children can leave deep, deep scars.”