In naming its fourth president and CEO in the past two years, USA Gymnastics has tapped former gymnast-turned-NBA executive Li Li Leung.
Leung, most recently the NBA’s vice president for global partnerships and a former managing director of global sports management firm Helios Partners, succeeds former congresswoman Mary Bono, who resigned in October, after just four days on the job, following vehement criticism of her selection by Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman.
Leung takes over the organization at a critical juncture, amid a bankruptcy filing that followed the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision in November to start the process of stripping the organization of its role as the national governing body for the sport after its poor handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal and a subsequent series of missteps.
After a lengthy search process for a new leader, Kathryn Carson, chairman of a recently reconstituted governing board for USA Gymnastics, said that in Leung the governing body had found an executive who “can lead a cultural transformation and has the sports management expertise to rebuild our brand.”
Leung began her gymnastics training at age 7 and represented the U.S. in the 1988 Junior Pan American Games before competing for Michigan. She also coached high school and college gymnastics while a graduate student.
In speaking to a small group of reporters Tuesday morning, Leung emphasized her personal experience as a competitive gymnast and said that upon reading the USOC’s outsourced investigation into the factors that enabled Nassar’s decades-long sexual abuse, Leung said that sections of the findings — details of gymnasts suffering silently, competing on broken bones — struck a chord with her.
“As I was reading that, I actually felt I was reading my memoir,” Leung said. “All of those hit close to home.
“I, too, in some sense, am a recovering gymnast.”
Leung distilled her goal as USA Gymnastics CEO as transforming the culture of the organizing to put athletes first and rid the sport of the opportunity for abuse to occur again.
Outlining her early priorities, she said she would embark on a learning and listening tour with current and former USA gymnasts.
She vowed to work toward “a fair and equitable settlement” with survivors of Nassar’s abuse, whose lawsuits will presumably be resolved via the bankruptcy proceeding.
She promised to ensure that the SafeSport program was fully staffed and functioning effectively. And she said she would lean on the expertise of USA Gymnastics’ board to restore trust in the organization, voicing confidence that it could demonstrate why it deserves to retain its governing status of the sport, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics less than 18 months away.
“This is much more than a job to me,” Leung said. “It’s a personal challenge.”