After a season in which Mizzou gymnastics reached its highest ranking in program history, the program now faces questions surrounding head coach Shannon Welker.
On Thursday, KOMU 8 News’ Mark Kim and Mitchel Summers reported that eight Mizzou gymnasts have left the program for reasons unrelated to injury since Welker took over in 2013-14. Kim and Summers spoke to former Mizzou gymnast Lark Pokladnik, who expressed concerns about the team environment Welker created.
“There was not a day I walked into the gym excited to be there. Every day I went in I was like, ‘What torture am I going to experience today?’” Pokladnik told KOMU 8 News.
Former Mizzou gymnast Jordyn Doherty spoke to KOMU 8 News as well. Doherty said Welker pressured her to compete during the 2014-15 season when she was injured with torn ligaments in her foot. After the season, Doherty was removed from the team, and, according to Doherty, Welker didn’t provide a reason.
Doherty and other athletes told KOMU 8 News that the pressure of being on the team led to unhealthy diet habits.
“I was going to the extent of taking laxatives and not eating. And when I was eating, I was eating celery, and I don’t like celery at all. But I was holding my nose just to get celery down just to get something in my body,” Doherty said to KOMU 8 News.
A day after the story came out, another former Mizzou gymnast came to KOMU 8 News anonymously. The former gymnast wrote a statement detailing her issues with Welker. The gymnast wrote that Welker body-shamed members of the team and was a constant negative presence.
“He is causing more harm than good to the ladies under him by promoting unethical behavior, teaching them to hate their bodies, and tearing the team apart instead of nurturing unity,” the gymnast wrote in the statement.
The gymnast also went on to personally ask Welker to step down from his head coaching position and that Mizzou choose its next coach “very wisely.”
Former All-American Rachel Updike, who left the program before her senior season, told KOMU 8 News, “There just has to be a change with the family aspect of it, and I don’t know if he can do that.”
Pokladnik said she told a gymnast from her club team visiting Mizzou not to attend the university.
Doherty also warned potential recruits.
“Go somewhere you’re gonna have an amazing experience,” she said to KOMU 8 News. “Go somewhere you’re gonna get that because you’re not gonna get that here, not with Shannon.”
Since the story broke, a number of current Mizzou gymnasts, including sophomore All-American Britney Ward and junior Shauna Miller, have tweeted out in support of Welker with the hashtag #ForeverAFamily.
Thankfully there is always two sides of a story 😊 #ForeverAFamily— Shauna Miller (@shauna___miller) May 12, 2017
Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org