Australia's female gymnasts tell how coach Peggy Liddick has got them jumping into medal contention
In late November 2005 Melbourne, Australia hosted the World Gymnastics Championships. Some may have felt with Australia not being particularly well recognized as a gymnastics power that it was an odd choice of host, but what the rest of the world had not counted on were the Australian's two weapons: former U.S. women's coach Peggy Liddick, who guided Shannon Miller to two of her Olympic Gold medals and a talented seventeen-year-old from Melbourne named Monette Russo.
Ms Liddick is an attractive middle aged, maternallooking lady who took on the task of coaching Australia's girls' team in 1996, following the reign of fear implemented by former Chinese coach Ju Ping. Ms Ju did bring a professionalism to Australian gymnastics that had been previously missing, but she was reported to be extremely harsh in her training methods. It was rumoured that she often spoke severely to the girls, reducing them to tears and imposed a strict dietary requirement that scared prospective gymnasts away.
Nurturing coach Peggy Liddick with one of her charges at a meet.
Since the arrival of Coach Liddick the Australian girls have steadily improved and this world championships, held at home, was where they intended to show just how much. Coach Liddick too is a stern task mistress, as any of her girls will tell you, but they will also tell you how much they love her, and how they realize that what she does and the rules she imposes are for their own good, and the lessons that they learn from her will remain long after they finish competing.
As female gymnasts begin learning their craft quite early, most taking up the sport seriously before they even reach their teens, the coach is required to be their mentor and their mother all in one. Many of the Australian girls spend a lot of time away from their families at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
Peggy Liddick has to, by necessity, take on the role of surrogate mother to some scared and apprehensive young girls. The baby of the Australian team at this championships was Chloe Sims, who with her short dark hair and toothy grin looked even younger than her mid-teen years.
"Coach Liddick is strict," sixteen-year-old Monique Blount admitted, shaking her mane of curly black hair, "but we do better than the girls who came before us because of it."
Monique Blount performs her floor exercises.
"It still sucks not being able to use my mobile to tell my parents about my results," the pretty blonde Daria Joura, 15, complained.
The fiery Daria Joura in action on the uneven bars.
"You better not let Coach Liddick hear you say that," Casey McDonnell, another of the team's three fifteen-year-olds warned, with a smile.
Getting Her Bum Smacked
Chloe giggled and shot a look at the oldest and most accomplished member of the team, Monette Russo.
"Monette got her bum smacked for using her mobile last time we were at a competition," she explained.
Monette, a confident and elegant brunette, sighed and glared at the team's baby before going on. "Coach Liddick has a 'no mobile phones and no newspapers' rule during competitions. She doesn't like us looking at papers and reading great things about ourselves, in case our heads get too swollen, or we put too much pressure on ourselves. I understand that. I don't get the mobile phone ban, though. I mean everyone these days has a mobile. How can anyone live without one? I got busted texting some friends from a competition last time, and wound up over Coach Liddick's knee."
At a look from this reporter Monette confirmed, "Yes, she spanks us, and before you ask, it was on my bare bottom!"
The highly talented Monette Russo on the beam.
Ms Liddick laughed when questioned about her training methods. "I do spank the girls if they break the team rules. I'd do the same thing to my own daughters, if I had any, and the girls' parents are fine with it. Monette, whilst a strong competitor and an excellent gymnast, can be prone to lapses in concentration. The last thing I want her thinking about is a text message or a phone call while she's balancing on the beam."
Coach Liddick finds that a warmed bottom focuses a girl's mind, "wonderfully well" out on the floor. "All the girls have been over my knee and had their seats heated by my palm at one time or another," she confided. "The spankings are given with love. The girls know that, even Daria, who howls the house down during her paddlings, and there is always a hug and forgiveness afterwards."
Although Coach Liddick's methods are sure to be frowned upon by many other coaches and parents, they are reaping results with the Australian team. The girls are finally, after many years of trying, gaining respect on the world stage. If they had only known that all it took was a good spanking and a hug, they would have reached that level so much earlier.
The coach's methods were effective enough to ensure that her oldest charge, Monette Russo, won bronze in the all round at the World Championships at the end of November.
"I'm as proud of her as her mother is," Coach Liddick said.
One doubts that her mother worked quite as hard as Peggy Liddick, whether in the practice arena, at the competition, or after hours with a young lady bent across her lap.
One of Coach Liddick's successful teams pose for the crowd and the media.
Originally published in Bared Affair, Issue 4.01