November 20, 2008

And the Scandals Just Keep On Coming...

We can hardly believe it ourselves, but it seems we've got another scandal for you. Admittedly it's not as big as the Karolyi and Brazilian scandals, but it's a scandal, and as such we think it is our duty to fill you in on it. (Feel free to send us happy gymnastics stories if you're fed up with the scandals. We'd dearly like to post a cheerful and uplifting story for once!)

The protagonist of today's scandal is Verona van de Leur, who placed 2nd AA at the 2002 Europeans and 2nd on floor at the 2002 Worlds, after which she was voted Holland's Athlete of the Year (an honor which had never been bestowed on a Dutch gymnast before). Verona quit gymnastics last summer after an emotionally fraught period during which her coach, Esther Heijnen, was sacked from her club, and her former coach Frank Louter played mind games with her at the Europeans. On June 19 Verona announced her retirement, saying it was partly because of the "political games" played by the Dutch Gymnastics Federation in Clermont-Ferrand, and partly because of "personal reasons." At the time she declined to elaborate on the latter.


Fast-forward half a year and Verona van de Leur is breaking her silence on those "personal reasons." Yesterday morning the former Dutch champion, who will turn 23 next month, appeared on a breakfast show called Goedemorgen Nederland (Good Morning Holland), telling a story of parental estrangement of which Dominique Moceanu would have been proud. In addition to the TV show, a Dutch magazine called Revu has published an article entitled "Verona van de Leur's Rotten Life." We haven't read the magazine yet, but thanks to Heidemarie's mad linguistic skills (no jokes please), we got a transcript of the TV interview.

In the Goedemorgen Nederland interview Verona accuses her parents of several things. Her main accusation is that her parents don't approve of her boyfriend, who apparently has a criminal record, and have turned everyone they know against the couple; supposedly even Verona's coach isn't speaking to her anymore. Another, equally damaging allegation is that her parents used her prize money and sponsorship deals for their own ends, without ever consulting her on the matter.

Allegedly Verona's parents managed her money for the greater part of her career. According to Verona, they paid her gymnastics fees but also helped themselves to large chunks of her income, using Verona's money to pay for her sister's gym fees, contact lenses, and school books; her father's soccer club membership dues; her parents' gas; trips abroad; and so on. Some of which would have been okay, Verona says, if they hadn't done it behind her back. "They made it sound as if they were doing a lot for me - 'Never mind, we don't mind sacrificing a bit for you' - but all the while I was paying for it myself, and paying for their things too," said Verona. And it seems all the money is gone now. "I keeping asking my Dad where the money went - I have certain things in writing - but he won't tell me anything." Verona's father reportedly denies the allegations, claiming that all the money was spent on Verona's gymnastics fees - magnesium powder, leos, travel expenses, etc.

Verona accuses her parents of other things too. Her father allegedly broke into her laptop and Hotmail account to find incriminating material on her boyfriend, of whom he doesn't approve. In the fracas ensuing over that, her parents reportedly threw her out of the house without any of her belongings and changed the locks so she couldn't enter the house. They now call the police whenever she tries to come near the house. Says Verona, "I've spent about seven hours at the police station trying to explain the situation, but they can't help me either."

Verona and the controversial boyfriend (photo: Revu)

The breakfast show featured some less serious accusations as well. Allegedly Verona's mother was "very result-oriented" and would refuse to pick her daughter up from the airport if she had failed to get good results in an overseas competition. "I'd be abroad and after an unsatisfactory competition I'd receive a text message saying, 'You'll just have to grab a train home tomorrow.' All the other girls would be picked up from the airport by their parents, but I'd have to take a train home."

In the end, the family drama proved a little too much for Verona. While it was "the political games" played at the Europeans that were the final straw, it was the lack of family support that really upset her. "If my parents had supported me, all that [the coaching situation, the games played at the Europeans] would have been much easier to deal with," said Verona in the TV interview. As it was, "it was an enormous mental burden. I just couldn't deal with it anymore." So she quit.

Asked about her plans for the future, Verona answered that she would first have to gain a full understanding of her situation, then "start all over again." She added that it would be very hard to start over, without any money or the help of her family.

Good luck with that, Verona. We hope you and your family will patch it up eventually, like the Moceanus.

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