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SafeSport ‘evaluating’ whether to suspend Anna Li

SafeSport ‘evaluating’ whether to suspend Anna Li

The U.S. Center for SafeSport is evaluating whether to suspend Anna Li, a former UCLA All-American gymnast and 2012 U.S. Olympic team alternate, for allegedly trying to intimidate a young athlete at a recent competition, according to a U.S. Center for SafeSport email obtained by the Southern California News Group.

An attorney for Riley Milbrandt, a former athlete at Legacy Elite Gymnastics, the club owned and operated by Li’s family in Aurora, Illinois, recently asked the U.S. Center for SafeSport to place Li, a Legacy coach and member of USA Gymnastics influential athletes council, on an interim-measure suspension. Li allegedly “aggressively” pointed her finger at Milbrandt and took other actions that made the gymnast uncomfortable during a meet last month, according to U.S. Center for SafeSport documents and interviews.

Li and her mother and fellow Legacy coach Jiani Wu, an Olympic medalist for China and former USA Gymnastics national team coach, have been under investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport since August 2019 for allegedly abusing young female gymnasts at Legacy, according to SafeSport documents and interviews.

Another Legacy coach, Rebecca Thone, is also under investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for physical and verbal abuse, according to center documents.

Corrina Milbrandt, Riley’s mother, was an early whistleblower in the Li and Wu case.

Under the U.S. Center for SafeSport code “retaliation against anyone for engaging in theCenter’s processes is prohibited.”

In an email to Riley Milbrandt regarding the investigation of Li, Libby Bailey, U.S. Center for SafeSport’s assistant director for investigations, reiterated “that it is a serious violation of the SafeSport Cod to retaliate against any person who participates in the Center’s processes.”

“Retaliation includes threatening, intimidating, harassing, coercing or any other conduct that would discourage a reasonable person from engaging or participating in the Center’s processes when the action is reasonably related to the report or engagement with the Center. Retaliation may be present even where there is a finding that no violation occurred,” according to the SafeSport code.

“If you take retaliation seriously, (Li) should be suspended,” Corrina Milbrandt said in a telephone interview. “(U.S. Center for SafeSport) know how these coaches work. They’re bullies. They bully all the time.”

Russell Prince, an attorney for Li and Wu, did not respond to a request for comment.

At least 30 complaints have been filed with the U.S. Center for SafeSport since July 2019 in which gymnasts and their parents allege that Li disparaged gymnasts in front of their peers on a “daily basis,” regularly called girls fat, pressured injured athletes to train or compete, and threatened to make negative comments to college coaches recruiting them if they struggled in training. Gymnasts also allege they were unable to train or compete because of injuries or illness, or appeared in Li’s opinion overweight, according to interviews with multiple gymnasts and parents and U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Gymnastics documents.

Wu on multiple occasions pulled young gymnasts by their hair when she was dissatisfied with their training, including at least one occasion when Wu allegedly pulled a girl by her ponytail all the way to the ground, according to interviews and multiple complaints submitted to U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Gymnastics.

Despite the severity of the allegations, the U.S. Center for SafeSport previously rejected a request from parents that Li and Wu be placed on interim suspension, a measure with which SafeSport can suspend individuals as a protective measure pending the outcome of the investigation, according to documents.

Individuals placed on interim suspension can then request a hearing within 72 hours.

As of last month, the U.S. Center for SafeSport also had not interviewed Li or Wu.

In requesting Li immediately be placed on interim suspension, Judie Saunders, an attorney for the Milbrandts, wrote in a recent email to Bailey that Li’s actions at the Illinois meet “are a clear indication that Riley MIlbrandt is not safe from further emotional and verbal abuse by this coach.”

“As I am sure you are aware, interim measure sanctions can unilaterally be imposed by the Center to protect minors from abuse,” Saunders continued in the email. “Thereafter, Ms. Li will be permitted full due process in this matter.

“All of Riley’s abuse allegations have been corroborated and fully substantiated by eyewitnesses and fellow teammates. As such, immediate action is required by the Center to stop and deter further harm to Riley and other girls by Ms. Li and Legacy Elite.”

Bailey, in an email to Riley Milbrandt, said the center is “evaluating and assessing this matter.”

“In the event a decision is made to suspend any of the coaches, you will be notified,” Bailey wrote.

On the surface, the U.S. Center for SafeSport investigation of Li, Wu and Legacy has had little impact on the gym. USA Gymnastics Region 5 recently celebrated Li’s career as part of women’s history month.

Legacy is also actively promoting “beLIeve College Camp,” featuring some of the nation’s top college coaches at the club in early July. A flier for the event under Legacy’s logo, the Olympic rings and the slogan “Where Success & Fun Is One!” said the camp is “Featuring College Clinicians from” UCLA, Cal, Florida, Washington, Michigan State, Utah State, Towson State and Northern Illinois.

For a $600 fee, gymnasts will train for two days with the coaches and participate in a question-and-answer session with the college coaches, according to the flier.

Legacy is also promoting an elite performance camp at the gym in July featuring Chellsie Memmel, the 2005 World individual all-around champion. Memmel is also a judge certified by the FIG, the sport’s international governing body.

Memmel did not respond to a request for comment.

UCLA coach Chris Waller did not respond to a request for comment on the college camp earlier this week. Neither did the head coaches at Cal, Florida, Washington, Michigan State, Utah State, Towson State and Northern Illinois.

Waller in an email Thursday night after this report was posted online, two days after SCNG requested a comment from him, said “UCLA has no current staff members that are coaching or attending the Legacy Elite college camp July 1-3.”

Michigan State head coach Michael Rowe in an email Thursday, a day after the first SCNG report on the camp was posted, said “Michigan State is NOT attending” the Legacy camp but did not elaborate further. All references to Michigan State had been removed from the Legacy online flier Thursday.

All references to Cal were also removed from the flier. Andi Li, Anna’s younger sister, is a freshman on the Cal team.

Utah State head coach Amy Smith in an email later Thursday wrote that “Utah State is not attending the Legacy Elite Camp.”

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