If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know that I was having Internet issues yesterday morning that prevented me from writing anything of substance. As yesterday wore on, subjects I wanted to write about piled up, even as I also made a concerted effort to get further into my latest book. I watched the latest Lifetime movie, which I reviewed this morning. I watched the latest South Park episode, which I definitely want to briefly comment about today. And I noticed that I was getting shitloads of hits on a post I wrote about British gymnast and commentator Monica Phelps back in December 2020. I searched the Internet to find out what’s going on with her, and now I want to comment about that, too. So here goes…
First– South Park!
Season 26 of South Park just started up, and while I don’t necessarily think South Park is still as funny as it used to be, I do think this week’s episode is pretty damned funny! It was pretty much a treatment of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and their insistence that they want privacy, while they constantly appear in the press. I watched a few good YouTube videos about the episode that sum it up as well or better than I can… Suffice to say, I laughed hard. I enjoyed it enough to see it twice, since I had to get Bill to watch it.
I love how they managed to capture the reality of this situation with humor… but I have a feeling Meghan is not going to like this episode of South Park at all. It’s quite a roasting. Frankly, I think they kind of deserve it, but that’s just my humble opinion.
And second, Monica Phelps…
On a more serious note… Statcounter reported that a whole bunch of people from England and its environs were hitting my blog yesterday. I was surprised to see that, and wondered what it was all about, so I checked the news. Sure enough, there were articles in the Guardian and the BBC about Monica Rutherford Phelps’ husband, 1960s era Olympic diver, Brian Phelps, who ran a trampoline gym with her in England. In 2008, when he was 64 years old, Brian Phelps was convicted of a string of indecent assaults against three children.
Yesterday, it was reported that following the Whyte Review, in which Anne Whyte investigated abuse in British women’s gymnastics, Phelps actually had many more victims who never came forward. Phelps served six of the nine years to which he was sentenced for sexually abusing children. A 52 year old woman, using the pseudonym Emma Webb, has gone public with her story about how she was abused by Phelps. Webb started her training in 1975, when she was five years old. That was when the abuse started. It continued until she was twelve years old, when she stopped attending the Phelps’ gym, Olga.
Webb is working on a book about her experiences with the Phelps. According to the article in the Guardian, Webb doesn’t remember being molested by Monica Phelps, but she does remember the Olympian gymnast as being obsessed about her gymnasts’ bodies. She also wrote that Monica’s favorite gymnasts weren’t the same as Brian’s, and their interaction was “toxic” and “deeply disturbing”. In my blog post about Phelps, I noted the inappropriate comments Phelps made about gymnasts’ bodies in the YouTube videos of her commentary.
Admittedly, my 2020 post about Monica Phelps was kind of a silly one. I’m American, so until I wrote that post after seeing those videos by Ampli Tood on YouTube, I didn’t know who Monica and Brian Phelps are (although I actually lived in England in 1975!). I did find her comments cringeworthy in 2020, but I wasn’t thinking about how utterly horrifying they must have been to the gymnasts themselves, whose parents were probably paying a lot of money for gymnastics training at the Olga facility in Dorset, England.
Emma Webb describes being taken to a basement room known as “Happyland”, where unspeakable things happened to her. The room was decorated with murals of cartoon characters, words written in “kiddie” fonts, and Disney characters, such as Snow White and Seven Dwarves. She writes of flinging every gymnastics medal she ever won into the sea… and not being able to even look at Cadbury Dairy Milk bars, because they were used as rewards.
By 1993, Webb was 22 years old and in an eating disorder treatment program in London. It took intense therapy and great effort to finally explain what had happened to her and begin to heal from the abuse. The Whyte review was apparently a mixed bag for Webb, who was glad to, at long last, see the abuses of British gymnastics finally addressed, yet was traumatized anew by the information revealed. Even today, according to the article in the Guardian, Webb is unable to move on completely. She is constantly triggered by a broad array of things– everything from hearing about the Olympics, to being in an area near the Olga gym, to smelling sweat.
I did find Monica Phelps’s comments kind of funny in a cringey way when I was first exposed to them. Now, upon learning a bit more about what allegedly happened in the gym she ran with her husband, I’m a lot more sober in my appraisal. I wrote in my first article that the comments she made were pretty mortifying. And now I know they were just scratching the surface. I noticed that she was fixated on the bodies of the gymnasts she was critiquing for British sports. Now I know that those who trained with her were subjected to far, far worse…
The Olga facility, now known as Poole Gymnastics & Trampolining Club, is still open today. The official Web site is currently down for construction, but there is an active Facebook page. Although I remain enchanted by the beauty of gymnastics, I’m glad I never pursued the sport myself… and I’m glad I don’t have children to put into it. I say this, even though I know not all coaches are abusers. I just think it’s a very physically dangerous sport to begin with, and having sex abusers in its ranks makes it even more dangerous. My heart goes out to all of the victims.