Every four years, young female gymnasts from all over the world draw the eyes of many nations and become stars of the summer Olympics. But with less than a year to Rio 2016′s opening ceremony, a Team USA gymnastics coach faces state and federal charges of child molestation and child pornography.
The coach, Marvin Sharp, owns and directs Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was arrested on August 25, 2015, on suspicion of child molestation. Two days later, he appeared in court to hear the state charges against him: four counts of child molestation and three counts of sexual misconduct
In the investigation that followed Sharp’s arrest, officers searched his home and business and found thousands of child pornography images. Sharp faces additional federal charges related to the child pornography.
USA Gymnastics issued a statement the day of Sharp’s arrest. They affirmed that athlete safety is their top priority, saying these charges go against their philosophy and standards. They also stated they are cooperating with investigators regarding Sharp’s case.
Still, when situations like this arise, it’s helpful to examine how coaches become Team USA and Olympic team coaches. To qualify as a Team USA gymnastics coach, coaches must obtain a membership with USA Gymnastics. Membership requirements include a background check that lasts two years. Any coach at a Team USA–sponsored gymnastic event must have a membership.
Team USA Gymnastics coaches become Olympic coaches only if an athlete they train earns a spot as an Olympic athlete. To earn the five open spots, gymnasts must place among the top competitors at the US Olympic Trials. The individual all-around champion earns an automatic spot; a selection committee names four other team members and up to three alternates.
These Olympic gymnasts bring their personal coaches to the Games with them. Before competition begins, USA Gymnastics appoints coaches from among the personal coaches as head coaches and assistant head coaches for the men’s and women’s teams.
Sharp’s Olympic ties come from the 2008 Beijing games. Two athletes who trained at his gym, Samantha Peszak and Bridget Sloan, earned silver medals as part of the women’s team all-around competition. By Rio, Sharp’s Olympic experience will be eight years old. That’s eons in Olympic gymnastics time, because athletes (and their coaches) seldom earn spots at two games.
The jury trial for Sharp’s state charges is scheduled to begin on October 28, more than nine months before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games officially open. According to a sex crimes attorney, Tad Nelson, these kinds of charges can often result in mandatory prison time. No doubt, Sharp faces a long road ahead, and what punishment he receives is still to be determined. If his trial proceeds quickly, the verdict, no matter what it is, may largely vanish from public memory before the Olympic flame burns in Brazil. Still, it remains to be seen how large a shadow this case will cast over the Games in general and USA Gymnastics in particular.