Kazuhito Sakae Kazuhito Sakae

Kaori Icho is arguably one of the strongest women in Japan physically. And after the 2016 Rio Olympics, she is arguably the best ever women’s wrestler, capturing her fourth straight Olympic title since wrestling became an Olympic sport at the 2004 Athens Games.

And yet, even the strongest are susceptible to power harassment. In April of 2018, after a thorough review of an independent panel, Kazuhito Sakae was fired from his position as head of top athlete development in the Japan Wrestling Federation, and then in June, fired as head coach of the Shigakkan University wrestling team, for harassment of two Olympians.

As the #MeToo movement hit the shores of Japan, the story of Icho and Sakae played out in the Japanese press, revealing, as Mainichi put it, “an outmoded relationship of master and disciple.” The bulk of the harassment took place in the period around 2010, after Icho had won her 2nd gold medal in individual freestyle wrestling at the Beijing Olympics, and as she was preparing for the 2012 London Olympics.

According to the independent panel, formed at the request of the Japan Wrestling Federation, there were four clear cases of power harassment suffered by not only Icho, but her coach and former Olympian and bronze medalist in men’s freestyle wrestling, Chikara Tanabe.

  1. In 2010 Icho moved to Tokyo from Aichi Prefecture where she was attending Chukyo Women’s University (which is now called Shigakkan University), in an effort to remove herself from the direct influence of Sakae who was the head coach there. When Icho participated in a training session for the Japan national team, which Sakae was overseeing, Sakae said to Icho, “you have the nerve to wrestle in front of me.”
  2. Icho, who effectively stopped taking any coaching from Sakae, asked Tanabe, the coach of the national men’s freestyle team, to coach her. Sakae then demanded that Tanabe to cease any coaching activities of Icho. When Tanabe refused he found himself harassed by other members of the wrestling team, as directed by Sakae, according to the independent panel.
  3. Quite inexplicably, the world’s best female wrestler in her weightclass, Icho, was left off the women’s freestyle wrestling team for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. The committee that left Icho off the team was headed by Sakae.
  4. In 2015, Sakae was seen harassing Tanabe to leave a national team training session, screaming, “You are an eyesore! Get out!”

Those were the four specific proofpoints of power harassment that the independent committee described. And while one may suspect there was more, this was enough for the Japanese public to nod their head and think, yes, I’ve seen that too.

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Japan, one out of every three workers had experienced power harassment over the previous three years. This was up from one out of every four when the survey had been conducted five years earlier in 2012. Additionally, 7,8% said they were harassed “many times”, while 17.8% were harassed “occasionally.”

Of those harassed, 41% took no action, citing the belief that nothing would come of it. According to this Deutsche Welle article, only 4% of the cases of sexual violence against women are reported, and that only one of every three rape cases reach the Japanese courts.

Icho and Sakae
Kaori Icho, right, is one of Japan’s biggest stars but has yet to announce her plans for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

“Not speaking out is rooted in Japanese culture. Traditionally, people here are not accustomed to revealing details about themselves or sharing personal issues in public,” Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, told DW. “And society looks down on people who do break that unwritten rule.”

Supporting the tendency in Japan not to report, Icho said in a statement that she was not “involved in any way” in lodging the complaint, according to Inside the Games. Thankfully, three Olympians did send an official complaint to the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese Government.

On June 14, Sakae finally apologized. “I would like to express my deepest apologies to Icho and her coach (Chikara) Tanabe,” Sakae said. “I will treat people with respect at all times so I never make the same mistake again,” he said as he bowed his head in apology in a news conference.

Despite the swirl of controversy, there is still hope that Icho will commit to an attempt at an unprecedented fifth straight Olympic title in 2020, under the warm gaze of a home crowd. Now 34, she has refrained from competition since the Rio Olympics. If she does, she has said that she will resume her training in 2019.

Icho in 2020.

Imagine what she could do without being harassed by the head of the national wresting team.

Madison Rae Margraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte
Madison Mangraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen. February 2, 2018 REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

It was a sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar. Judge Janice Cunningham was presiding over the hearing in Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Michigan, where victims of Nassar’s abuse testified to the pain and suffering at his hands. Nasser was sentenced to 40 to 175 years for molesting 7 girls, although hundreds have said they had been molested by Nassar.

Two sisters, Lauren and Madison Mangraves, had just testified at Nasser’s sentencing hearing in Eaton County, and their father Randall Mangraves asked to speak as well.

“I can’t imagine the anger and the anxiety and the feeling of wanting retribution, and if you need to say something to help you,” said Cunningham to Randall Mangraves. “I’m more than willing to let you say something, but in a courtroom we don’t use profanity. If you have some words you’d like to say, I would like to give you the opportunity to say something.”

Mangraves then took the opportunity.

“I would ask you as part of the sentencing to grant me five minutes in a locked room with this demon. Would you do that? Yes or no.”

The young women behind the left shoulder of Randall Mangrave, were his daughters, Lauren and Madison. As their father began his request, you can see Madison react with surprise, her somber and tearful face suddenly smiling involuntarily, pleased that her father was sticking up for his daughters, perhaps thinking he was being even a bit playful when he suggested he have “even one minute” with Nassar.

But Randall Mangrave wasn’t playing. Madison’s face turned to shock as she watched his father dash across the room and lunge at Nassar. Security quickly wrestled him to the ground, Mangraves failing to get anywhere near the sexual predator. You can hear weeping in the background, presumably one of the daughters who had gone through a roller coaster of emotions, even in the previous 2 minutes.

Randall Mangraves attacks
Randall Margraves lunges at Larry Nassar in court as his sentencing continues REUTERS

After security determined he was cuffed and not going to resist, they let him get up. Before he was taken away, there was a pause as he stared at the security men in disbelief.

“What if this happened to you guys,” he said to the officers who took him away.

There was no reply.

 

Marit Bjørgen

Only three women have won ten medals in the Winter Olympics: Russian cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina, Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo, and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen.

But only Bjørgen is sill sking, and she’s gunning to become the most be-medaled female Olympian in history. A four-time Olympian, Bjørgen started her Olympic career at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where she won silver in the 4x 5km relay for Team Norway. In Turin at the 2006 Winter Olympics, she battled through bronchitis and stomach pains to manage silver in the 10k classical.

And with age, Bjørgen keeps getting better and better. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, she increased her distance by winning silver in the 30k classical, and dominated the shorter races by winning gold in in the individual sprint (1.5k), the individual pursuit (15k), and the 4x5k relay. The 2014 Sochi Games also saw her capture another three gold medals. Whether it was a sprint of 1.5 k of a long haul of 30k, Bjørgen emerged victorious.

Since Sochi, Bjørgen had a baby in December 2015, and maybe her competitors thought she would lose a step or two. But apparently Bjørgen has maintained her winning ways, taking four gold medals at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland.

On February 10, 2018, we’ll find out the day after the Opening Ceremonies, in the finals of the Ladies 7.5k + 7.5k Skiathlon, whether Bjørgen makes history with an 11th Olympic medal. I wouldn’t bet against a women who can lift a ship’s anchor.

Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim

Someone in Seoul recently wrote to me that many South Koreans are not so excited in the Winter Games to be held in their home country because there are no Korean superstars like Yuna Kim at these Games. I’m sure that will change if it hasn’t already.

Having said that, one of the biggest young talents coming to PyeongChang is a first-generation Korean. She will, however, be competing for the US. Her name is Chloe Kim. She is one of the best snowboarders in the world, becoming the youngest gold medalist at the Winter X Games at the age of 14. A year later she became the first person under 16 to win three gold medals, as well as the first woman to complete back-to-back 1080 spins in a competition, the only person other than the legendary snowboarder and teammate, Shaun White, to do so.Kim began snowboarding at 4

Born in California to Korean-born parents, Kim began snowboarding at 4. According to this SI article, she moved to Switzerland, where her parents met, for a couple of years of elementary school, where she added French and learned how to ply the halfpipe.

A Korean who won’t be returning is Viktor Ahn. With 3 gold medals and a bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2006 Torino Olympiads, Ahn (formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo) is one of the most decorated Olympians in South Korean history.

Unfortunately, following the 2006 Torino Games, the relationship between Ahn and his coach of the very successful Korean short track men’s team became tenable at best. Eventually, Ahn was put in a different group coached by the women’s track team, and the relationship became, apparently, unrepairable.

In 2008, Ahn fractured his knee while training, taking him out of action, and making it impossible for him to defend his world championship titles in 2008 and 2009. So when trials began for the 2010 Sochi Olympics, Ahn was not able to qualify due to the lack of points from not participating in the prior World Cups, so Ahn, somewhat surprisingly, was left off the South Korean squad heading to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

President Vladimir Putin Honours Russian Olympic Athletes
Putin and Ahn

In a tremendous shock to Korea, Ahn became a Russian citizen, and joined the Russian national team in time for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he had a successful comeback – three more gold medals and a bronze.

It goes without saying, with the Russia team under the dark cloud of state-sponsored cheating in addition to his “defection” to Russia, Koreans may have been looking forward to welcoming or heckling their for me star back to Korea. Unfortunately, that dramatic storyline never emerged.

While the IOC has approved over 160 Russians to compete at the Pyeong Chang Olympics, that list did not include Ahn, the taint of Russian medal winners who trained during the height of the state-sponsored doping machine prior and during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ahn is despondent, as he explained to RT:

This is really a very difficult situation. The IOC hasn’t specified any reasons for my exclusion from the Olympics. I don’t understand why they have made such a decision. I really can’t say anything right now. I’m still waiting, but if the situation is not resolved we will take action. During my entire career journey in short track, I’ve never given a reason to doubt my honesty and my integrity, especially when it comes to my victories which I achieved with nothing but my strength and dedication.

Yasuhiro Yamashita overcome 3
Yasuhiro Yamashita at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

The Modern Olympics have been going strong since 1896, so there is no shortage of stories about Olympians or Olympics past. Here are a few I wrote about in 2017.

 

Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand in Bob Anderson
Mark Hamill with Olympian and Darth Vader stand-in Bob Anderson
Sonja Henie_TIME Magazine Cover_July 17, 1939
Sonja Henie on the cover of TIME Magazine, July 17, 1939

A skate, according to Mr. Webster, is a contrivance for the foot, consisting of a keel-like runner attached to a plate or frame, enabling the wearer to glide rapidly over the ice. This definition, good enough so far as it goes, is, in the light of recent developments, plainly deficient. It is evidence that the times move faster than the dictionary, and that the dictionary is not yet aware of Sonja Henie.

For this blood daughter of the Norse has during recent months demonstrated unmistakably that a skate is something more than what Mr. Webster’ says it is. To her it has proved the means to fame, fortune, movie stardom and the plaudits of kings. With it she has glided swiftly not merely over the ice, but also into one of the most extraordinary of all motion picture careers.

J.D. Shapiro of Arkansas Gazette, January 23, 1938 had an opportunity to interview Sonja Henie, a retired figure skater whose three straight Olympic gold medals and ten straight world championships in individual figure skating propelled her to the heights of Hollywood. Henie would leverage her sporting accomplishments and become one of the most famous people on the planet in the 1930s and 1940s, a movie and professional skating star, who earned millions of dollars in the process.

At the time of the interview, Henie’s third feature film – “Happy Landing” – was about to debut, and she was about to leave with 80 other skaters on a lucrative national tour of her own ice skating show, called the “Hollywood Ice Revues.” Thanks to her first two films, Henie had already earned hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her first film “One in a Million,” had already made 20th Century Fox more money than any of its other films released in 1936, while her second film, “Thin Ice,” was the fifth biggest box office hit of 1937.

Sonja Henie_One in a Millions
Sonja Henie in One in a Million

According to the Shapiro interview, skating stardom and Hollywood famedom was the goal all along.

“I said to myself,” she explains, “I’ll win 10 skating championships, then I will go into the movies,” She won the championships. Now she is in the movies. So what is strange about it? Sonja it seems has always been like that. She usually knew what she wanted. She usually go it. At seven years old, she told us recently, she wanted a pair of skates for Christmas. Her parents didn’t want to give them to her because they thought she was too young, but in the end she got them. Soon she wanted to win a Norwegian championship. She did, at 11. Next she fastened her eye on a world championships, and she got it, at 14. After that she decided to triumph in the Olympics, and nothing could stop her.

And when it came to the world of film, she targeted 20th Century Fox, led by Darryl F. Zanuck, who according to this Vanity Fair article, had a nose for talent outside the acting world and was willing to take a chance on non-conventional ideas and people. Henie’s business partner, Arthur Wirtz, who created the ice revue business for Henie in New York, would help Henie bring an ice show to Hollywood with the hopes of getting the studio heads’ attention.

Sonja’s father, Wilhelm, then went to see media mogul, William Randolph Hearst with an offer – the Henie’s would donate $5,000 to a charity of Hearst’s choice if his mistress and actress, Marion Davies, would sponsor Sonja’s ice shows. They agreed, and two shows were produced, and the stars came out to the spectacle: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy – Hollywood royalty of the time.

Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power in The Second Fiddle
Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power in The Second Fiddle

And at the second show, Zanuck showed up. According to Shapiro, Zanuck signed Henie to a five-year contract, instantly making her one of the highest paid actresses of her time.

At the release of her first picture, “One in a Million”, Sonja Henie, walked arm in arm with Hollywood leading man, Tyrone Power at the film’s premier at the Roxy Theater in New York City. The one-and-a-half meter tall woman from Oslo, Norway was a giant of giants.

Here is Sonya Henie in Fly on Ice, her last theatrical film in 1958.

Aly Raisman _60 MInutes
Aly Raisman in 60 Minutes Interview

Aly Raisman is already a two-time Olympian with 6 medals from the 2012 London and 2016 Olympics, including gold medals in the team competition, while serving as captain. She is also the latest gymnast to step forward with allegations of sexual abuse against USA Gymnastics and their team doctor, Larry Nasser.

Thanks in part to the powerful coverage of the Indianapolis Star, and also in part to the recent wave of “#MeToo” revelations against men in power who prey on women, dozens of young women have come out publicly about Nasser, who has been arrested and been slapped with lawsuits.
In an interview with John LaPook of 60 Minutes, Raisman spoke about the denial, confusion and anger she went through upon realizing that she had been abused, and her advice to other girls who may be in an uncomfortable situation alone with an adult. Her words are powerful, and I want to note them:

Denial

Raisman: I was in denial. I was like, “I don’t thi– I d– I don’t even know what to think.” It– you don’t wanna let yourself believe but, you know, I am– I am– I am a victim of– of sexual abuse. Like, it’s really not an easy thing to let yourself believe that.

Raisman: I was just really innocent. I didn’t really know. You know, you don’t think that of someone. You know, so I just– I trusted him.

LaPook: You thought it was medical treatment.

Raisman: I didn’t know anything differently. We were told he is the best doctor. He’s the United States Olympic doctor and the USA Gymnastics doctor, and we were very lucky we were able to see him.

Simone Biles tweets support for Aly Raisman
Simone Biles tweets support for Aly Raisman

Confusion

Raisman (when asked quite suddenly by an investigator to comment on Nasser): And I said, you know, “Well, he– his touching makes me uncomfortable, but he’s so nice to me. And I– I don’t think he does it on purpose because, you know, I think he cares about me.”

LaPook: So it was only after the investigator left that you began to put the pieces together.

Raisman: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s important for people to know too I’m still trying to put the pieces together today. You know it impacts you for the rest of your life.

 

Anger

Raisman: Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?

LaPook: You’re angry.

Raisman: I am angry. I’m really upset because it’s been– I care a lot, you know, when I see these young girls that come up to me, and they ask for pictures or autographs, whatever it is, I just– I can’t– every time I look at them, every time I see them smiling, I just think– I just want to create change so that they never, ever have to go through this.

 

“Grooming”

Raisman (explaining the predatory practice of “grooming”): He would always bring me, you know, desserts or gifts. He would buy me little things. So I really thought he was a nice person. I really thought he was looking out for me. That’s why I want to do this interview. That’s why I wanna talk about it. I want people to know just because someone is nice to you and just because everyone is saying they’re the best person, it does not make it okay for them to ever make you uncomfortable. Ever.

 

Where Were the Parents?

Lynn Raisman (Aly’s mother): We were there. But if she’s not knowing that it’s wrong — never in a million years did I ever even think to say, “Hey, when you see the team doctor, is there someone with you?”

LaPook: If you could hit the rewind button, is there anything you would have done differently?

Lynn Raisman: I think the most important thing, if anyone takes anything away from this interview is sit down with your kids and explain to them that predators aren’t just strangers. They can be highly educated. They can be very well-respected in the community. It could be a family member, it could be a family friend. So, you know, that’s really, the, I mean, if I could go back in time, I would do that.

 

The Advice

As 60 Minutes explains, USA Gymnastics has always had a policy that an adult should “avoid being alone with a minor.” Clearly that policy was not publicized or enforced. But as far as Raisman is concerned, it’s time to publicize and enforce.

Raisman: Nobody ever educated me on, “Make sure you’re not alone with an adult.” You know, “Make sure he’s not making you uncomfortable.” I didn’t know the signs. I didn’t know what sexual abuse really was. And I think that needs to be communicated to all of these athletes, no matter the age.

 

Watch the 60 Minutes’ interview here.