The shock sacking of success coaches Marjorie Heulse and Eve Kieffer sent a shockwave through Belgian gymnastics yesterday. From their disputed appointment to their guilty plea regarding inappropriate conduct. Reconstruction of the bumpy track of Huell and Kiefer in the Flemish Gymnastics Federation.
December 2008: Keefer and Howells become head coaches despite strong protests
Even with their appointment, they caused a storm and fire within the Flemish gymnastics world.
After sacking 3 coaches, the Flemish Gymnastics Federation (Gymfed) appointed Frenchman Yves Kiefer as head coach in 2008. He brought on his wife Marjorie Heuls.
Remarkably, just weeks before his appointment, Kiefer had refused to work at Ghent due to the “very aggressive climate” and “negative media attention”.
But Kiefer himself was not without blame at that time either. Several complaints have already been filed against him in France for “verbal abuse” and “arrogant behaviour” towards young gymnasts from the French Gymnastics Federation.
This information caused a stir within the world of Flemish gymnastics. Many gymnasts refuse to train with Kiefer.
The Flemish government threatens not to pay the French coach’s salaries unless the Flemish Gymnastics Federation can prove that Kiefer was subjected to money laundering in judicial investigations.
But according to FIFA, the accusations against Kiefer have already been sufficiently refuted.
Marjorie Howells and Eve Keefer.
Rio 2016: Jimfied asks gymnast if Kiefer and Howells should be sent off
Kiefer and Howells raise the bar for gymnasts to a higher level and lay the foundation for future successes.
But in the years leading up to Rio 2016 and at the Games themselves, Kiefer and Howells reverted to his old behavior.
“The results took precedence over the mental and physical health of the gymnasts,” gymnast Laura Wym later testified.
“If we resisted or confronted the coaches about their abusive behavior, we would be bullied in the form of being ignored and not allowed to participate in competitions. This is what made the Omerta “These practices have been maintained and can continue.”
Another gymnast, Gayle Mays, decided to end her career abruptly after Rio. She later said: “Not because my body was exhausted, but because I was tired of constantly fighting against intimidation and bullying.”
After the Rio Games, Gymfed asked Mayes whether coaches Kiefer and Howells should be sacked.
“I said then that I didn’t want to be the reason someone was fired, but I had to take responsibility.”
In the end, Gymfed chose to continue with the French trainers, but with an emphasis on a more humane approach.
She added that a code of conduct had been put in place and “there is now a prominent place for the sports psychologist”.
Gaelle Mys left gymnastics due to Kieffer and Heuls’ cross-border approach.
July 2020: Breaking the silence
A confession from a former coach guarantees the omerta will be broken.
On 24 July 2020, Dutchman Gerrit Biltman admitted in an interview with the Noordhollands Dagblad newspaper that as a coach he had gone too far in training young gymnasts.
Beltman was head coach at the Flemish Gymnastics Federation during Aage Vanwalleghem’s tenure.
Beltman’s confession creates a snowball effect in the world of Flemish gymnastics.
Former gymnasts Gayle Mays, Laura Wim and Doreen Moten testify about the malpractice and that it remained common after the Rio Games.
Keefer and Howells came out of the blue: “We had nothing to do with abuse of power. We have a clear conscience.”
Olympic champion Nina Druel defends her French coaches. “No boundaries were ever crossed with me. I also don’t get the impression that people are walking around here suffering mentally.”
Here and there are calls for the dismissal of Keefer and Howells. But Gymfed continues to support the coaches: “They are working on developing themselves.”
Gymfed also confirms that such practices are becoming a thing of the past.
Eve Kiefer and Marjorie Howells explain these accusations.
April 2021: Huells and Kiefer plead guilty in a video
An independent commission concluded that there was indeed infringing behaviour.
As a result, Huells and Kiefer apologize in a video. “We recognize that our training approach in the past has sometimes been too harsh and performance-oriented,” they read from the paper.
“We also realize that this approach was viewed as psychologically inappropriate behavior and that it harmed the gymnasts. This was never our intention. We apologize to all gymnasts who suffered from our approach.”
“We want to actively contribute to healing and learning from these experiences. We will contribute constructively and sincerely to the much-needed cultural change within our sport.”
August 1, 2021: Druel becomes Olympic champion in Tokyo
With the support of Kiefer and Huells, Nina Druel sees her hard work rewarded in Tokyo with an Olympic title on the uneven bars.
“This title is the result of a system that has been built over the last ten years,” answers Hewells at L’Avenir.
The big question: Will Kiefer and Howells continue to work at Gymfed after the Tokyo Games? “If everyone agrees to it, we feel like staying,” he said.
And so it happened: Two months after the Games, Kiefer and Huells joined Gymfed until the 2024 Paris Games.
Nina Derwael with the gold medal flanked by Eve Kiefer and Marjorie Howells.
January 2023: Nina Druel expresses her dissatisfaction with the gymnastics scandal
“I’m angry and I’ll always be angry about it.”
At the beginning of this year, Nina Dreuil told Een Het Huis that she was disappointed by the way mental abuse played out in the Belgian gym world in 2020.
“Gymnasts who were preparing for the Tokyo Games were somewhat affected by this,” Druel says.
“If they had thought about it at all, they must have known it was going to hit us as hard, if not harder, than the coaches at that moment.”
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October 23, 2023: Gymfed fires Heuls and Kieffer
Although Heuls and Kiefer were under contract with Gemved until Paris 2024, the French coaching duo were suddenly sacked.
“During the evaluation of the last World Championships (Belgym came in 17th place) it became clear that mutual trust between Gymfed and the coaches was missing,” the gymnastics federation cited as the reason.
“That is why the Board of Directors has decided that it is best to end our cooperation now.”
And so, 9 months and 3 days after the Games in Paris, Nina Druel suddenly finds herself without a coach.
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