December 22, 2008

Yves Kieffer to Coach Flemish Girls After All

A few weeks ago we reported on the coaching scandal that was brewing in Belgium. Quick recap for those of you who missed it: last September, the Flemish Gymnastics Federation, Gymfed, fired its Dutch head coach, Gerrit Beltman, for being too nice to the girls (he agreed with his gymnasts that they needed more time off from school and training), then invited controversial French coach Yves Kieffer (who coached Emilie Lepennec and Isabelle Severino to their respective Olympic and European titles) to take his position. In the end, their negotiations with Kieffer came to nothing because a pro-Beltman journalist started raking up mud on the former French head coach, who had been accused of mental cruelty by a couple of French gymnasts and been the subject of a large investigation by the FFG, the French Gymnastics Federation. After a quick investigation and a consultation with the FFG, Gymfed announced that it still wanted to work with Kieffer, but the flamboyant Frenchman himself declined the offer, citing a "hostile environment." Exit Kieffer, or so it seemed.

Yves Kieffer

Not so. Gymfed just announced that Kieffer will become their head coach after all. The three remaining coaches at the Ghent training center (Marja Beltman, Rene Poutsma and Sofie Naert, all of whom wanted Gerrit Beltman to be reinstated) have been sacked, and Kieffer and his wife Marjorie Heuls will take over in January, with two Russian coaches who have been in Belgium for a while, Iouri Kiritchenko and Valentina Soldatenkova (Gaelle Mys's coach). Gymfed hopes they will help the Belgian team qualify to the 2012 Olympics.

It is uncertain what national champion Aagje Vanwalleghem will do now that Kieffer has been appointed head coach of the Flemish team. Vanwalleghem previously stated in no uncertain terms that she did not want to work under Kieffer. There are those who believe that Vanwalleghem, who recently won the bronze on vault at the Madrid World Cup Final, will start training at Dutch club Bosan TON, where her former coach Gerrit Beltman (to whom she is very close) is coaching now and where she would be surrounded by the cream of Dutch gymnastics, but our sources tell us Gymfed is trying hard to keep Vanwalleghem in Belgium in some way or another. We'll be interested to see what solution they come up with.

Aagje Vanwalleghem


  1. (TCO)

    Is there some Walloon versus Flemish strife mixed in here? Perhaps after Mother Russia re-absorbs the Crimea, we can take silly Belgium and cut it in half?

  2. Ha. Shouldn't be too hard, we think. :)

    There's a bit of Flemish versus Walloon strife going on in that the new coaches at the Ghent center all speak French rather than Dutch. There's some concern in Flanders about their national team having French-speaking coaches, a general sense that this is "not right" and that Gymfed should have tried harder to find Dutch-speaking coaches. But it sounds like Gymfed was hell-bent on getting Kieffer.

    We're kind of fascinated by Belgium having two different gymnastics federations (Flemish and Walloon). That's a sign of how internally divided the country is.

  3. Hi, I'm a belgian, not particularly interested in sports, but the story reached TV news in Belgium (well...the flemish part).
    So I did some surfing as it was unclear to me who's story was more credible - Flemish federation Gymfed or Aagje.
    Just so you know how I ended up on this site:)

    But to the point: Aagje has declared on national TV that she wants the chairman of the Federation to resign!
    The interviewer's microphone started trembling (as well as his voice) when he asked her if she was sure about making such a bold statement.

    I know nothing of sports, but with individual sports I assume there's a very fragile/tensed relationship between coaches and athletes, so to fire 4 (!) coaches and replace them all...doesn't sound like good sportsmanagement to me.

    In a responce, the chairman stated that one of the first things that the new coach (Kieffer) remarked was that the athletes schedule was too loaded. Now wait a minute...what was it that they had against the previous coach???

    For those who understand dutch:
    Aagje attacks

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. (TCO) I visited Belgium once. Flew in and they have this big sign saying one nation, three countries or something like that. Main industries are parliaments and smuggling. The Flems also have some strange argument that Flemish is not Dutch when it is.

    Getting gymnastical, I wonder how they would handle Olys or worlds if they had to have a team?

  6. Thanks very much for the link, Erik. We just listened to the various interviews and have posted a new entry on the situation. We agree it's extremely weird for Gymfed to say they'll reduce the gymnasts' work load at Kieffer's request when that is exactly what Beltman wanted all along. What an utterly bizarre situation.

    TCO, we agree that Belgium is a strange country. However, for what it's worth, it seems to be able to field teams to international competitions (Worlds, Europeans), so apparently they've found a way to make the situation work. We're not sure how they select their gymnasts, or who decides which Flemish and Walloon gymnasts get to represent Belgium. It's a bit of a mystery to us. Maybe some Belgian reader can explain all this?

  7. Hey hey,

    I am a belgian. (sorry for my bad english)
    I don't think that our selectionprocedure is different than in other countries. The best gymnasts get to represent Belgium, it doesn't matter if they are Femish or Walloon.
    Most of the gymnast who make the team go to school in Ghent, where they have the "Topsportschool". Ghent is in Flanders, but there are also Walloon girls and boys who go there.

    I hope this helped a bit :-)

    Kind regards,

  8. Thanks for that explanation, Mieke! Your English is fine and we greatly appreciate the feedback. So you're saying that nearly all the top Belgian gymnasts attend the Ghent center, even the Walloon ones? That's interesting. We didn't know that. Proof that Flanders and Wallonia CAN cooperate if forced to, we guess. Good to know. :)