Netflix's hit documentary Athlete A is a riveting look into how the Larry Nassar case rocked USA Gymnastics. But it's also a broader deep-dive into the beloved, but very clearly flawed, sport. After watching the film, you might be left wanting to know even more about the topic; luckily there are tons of books about gymnastics to provide further insight.
As Athlete A outlines, Larry Nassar is a former USA Gymnastics (USAG) national team doctor who started as a trainer for USAG in 1986 and worked his way up throughout the years. The sexual assault allegations leveled against Nassar first became public in 2016. Since then, more than 500 survivors have come forward about Nassar's pattern of sexual abuse, which reportedly dates back to 1992. In 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 charges of criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to as many as 175 years in prison.
Nassar's case is considered the most massive sexual abuse scandal in any sport in history. In a statement about the scandal provided to Elite Daily via email on July 1, USAG says, "USA Gymnastics has fully cooperated with all investigatory bodies, and we will continue to cooperate. We are deeply committed to learning from the numerous independent investigations that have been conducted to date as we pursue meaningful change within our sport."
As much as Athlete A covered, there are still many more stories about the gymnastics world — both related to the sex abuse scandal and outside of it — to learn about. Here are some books to read once you've finished the documentary and want to continue your education.
1. 'Start By Believing'
For those looking for more on the Nassar case, the best place to start is Start by Believing: Larry Nassar's Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster by John Barr and Dan Murphy. Considered the "definitive" account of the USAG sexual abuse scandal, it deconstructs the institutional failures that led to Nassar being able to operate for decades.
Start by Believing: Larry Nassar's Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster is available for $15 from Hachette Book Group.
2. 'Chalked Up'
There are a couple of autobiographies of Olympic champions on this list. But Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams by Jennifer Sey is the story of one of those who never made it.
Sey was a seven-time member of the United States National Team. But the hardships she survived, including her coach pushing her too far and an eating disorder brought on by the pressure for perfection, led to a mental health breakdown before she could compete for the 1988 Olympics. It's a reminder that the gymnastics world's issues have been around a long time.
Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams is available for $17 from Bookshop.org.
3. 'The 2016 Series'
In fiction, fans who want to know about the race for the Olympics would do well the check out Lauren Hopkins' 2016 Series trilogy. This series follows 15-year-old Amalia Blanchard and her dream of making the 2016 Olympic team.
The titles in the series are:
- Finding Our Balance
- When It Counts
- Now Be Fearless
Lauren Hopkins' 2016 Series books are available for $13 each from Bookshop.org.
4. 'Courage To Soar'
Viewed as the sport's GOAT, Simone Biles' Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance recounts how she got to where she is, the hard work she had to put in, and racism she faced along the way. But this official autobiography is no downer. Biles' effervescent personality comes through, making it a joyful read while revealing the determination it takes to make it to the podium.
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance is available for $13 via her website, SimoneBiles.com.
5. 'The Girls'
Another in-depth look at the Nassar case, The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down by award-winning journalist Abigail Pesta is a must-read.
The book isn't just a recounting of the story. It takes a broader view, putting the scandal, and how it broke, in context with the fuller #MeToo movement.
The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down is available for $15 via Seal Press.
6. 'I Got This'
Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez gets both heartfelt and humorous in her memoir about what it took to make it to the Rio Olympics in 2016 and help the U.S. team win the gold medal as part of the Final Five.
I Got This: To Gold and Beyond is available for $17 on Bookshop.org.
7. 'The End Of The Perfect 10'
For those who find the scoring system behind gymnastics performances baffling, there's The End of the Perfect 10: The Making and Breaking of Gymnastics' Top Score — from Nadia to Now by Dvora Meyers. In 2004, perfect 10s were the source of a judging controversy that changed how scoring in the sport was done going forward.
The End of the Perfect 10: The Making and Breaking of Gymnastics' Top Score — from Nadia to Now is available for $18 from Bookshop.org.
Another fictional novel, Tumbling by Caela Carter is the story of five girls and their dream to win big at the upcoming Olympic trials.
The characters range from Grace, for whom perfect is always out of reach, to people-pleaser Camille, to Monica, whose story of abuse is going unheard. The novel shows how two days of competition can change the lives of a lucky few forever.
Tumbling is available for $15 from Penguin Random House.
9. 'Letters To A Young Gymnast'
A casual Olympics viewer may not recognize the name Nadia Comăneci, but dedicated gymnastics fans will. Comăneci made history in 1976 as the first gymnast to earn a perfect 10 score at the Olympics. Her book is a glimpse into the mind of a top-notch competitor as she outlines her experience in the gymnastics world and her journey to achieve perfection.
Letters To A Young Gymnast is available for $17 on Bookshop.org.
Much like Biles' and Hernandez's autobiographies, Fierce by Aly Raisman is another first-person account of what it takes to make it to household name status at the Olympics. Raisman's inspiring story centers around showing those who doubted her how wrong they were.
Fierce is available for $6 from Little, Brown and Company.
11. 'Head Over Heels'
The 2020 fictional novel Head Over Heels focuses on Avery Abrams, a former Olympic trainee who finds herself falling for a local coach after a disastrous breakup. But the book isn't just a lighthearted rom-com. As a former amateur gymnast, author (and Elite Daily's Senior Dating editor) Hannah Orenstein understands the sport isn't perfect, and her story includes a subplot that echoes the darker side of gymnastics. Still, for those missing the now-postponed 2020 games in Tokyo, it makes for a lovely what-could-have-been story.
Head Over Heels is available for $16 from Bookshop.org.
12. 'Grace, Gold, and Glory'
In 2012, Gabby Douglas became the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual All-Around champion. Needless to say, she is a force within the sport. Her 2013 autobiography details her personal life and athletic accomplishments, from the start of her gymnastics career to her 2012 Olympic success.
Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith is available for $16 on Bookshop.org.
13. 'Off Balance'
Dominique Moceanu was thrust into the spotlight when she was the youngest member of the 1996 U.S. Women's Olympic Gymnastics team. But Moceanu's memoir isn't just a success story; it outlines the dark and gritty aspects of her life as an elite gymnast, as well as her life at home.
Off Balance is available for $16 on Bookshop.org.
14. 'What Is A Girl Worth?'
Rachael Denhollander was the first survivor to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Her memoir gives her account of how she and her fellow survivors brought Nassar to justice, and outlines the problems of abuse and what can be done to protect those who are vulnerable.
What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics is available for $22 from Tyndale Momentum.
Like Jennifer Sey's book, Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture by Rachel Haines is the story of one of those who didn't make it to the Olympics. Her story as one of Nassar's many survivors over the decades reveals the struggle to understand what happened to her and why it was allowed to go on for so long.
Abused: Surviving Sexual Assault and a Toxic Gymnastics Culture is available for $20 from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
16. 'Winning Balance'
Four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson is well-known both in the gymnastics world and in the mainstream. Her memoir is an inspirational look at life beyond the sport.
Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams is available for $15 from Tyndale Momentum.
17. 'Finding My Shine'
Nastia Liukin is one of the most celebrated gymnasts in U.S. history. Her book, Finding My Shine, details her journey to winning Olympic gold, while also providing tips for readers to overcome their own hardships and strive toward success.
Finding My Shine is available for $15 on Bookshop.org.
18. 'The Science Behind Gymnastics'
For those simply baffled by the physical feats pulled off by these athletes, The Science Behind Gymnastics is the book for you. In it, the book explains the physics involved in the jumps, turns, and flips that gymnasts seemingly perform with ease.
The Science Behind Gymnastics is available for $8 on Bookshop.org.
19. 'It's Not About Perfect'
As one of the most decorated gymnasts in U.S. history, Shannon Miller's story is totally inspiring. But her memoir is only partially about her accomplishments that took place before she retired from the sport in 2019. The book also explores her battle with ovarian cancer and how she has continued on with her life after gymnastics.
It's Not About Perfect is available for $31 on Bookshop.org.
20. 'Little Girls In Pretty Boxes'
Published in 2000, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters by Joan Ryan is about two popular Olympic sports: gymnastics and ice skating. It's been re-updated and re-released in light of recent events, and now leans more into the world of gymnastics. But it's as much a rallying cry to listen to women now as it was 20 years ago.
Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters is available for $15 from Bookshop.org.
Additional reporting by Lexi Williams