Last month, 1992 Olympic all-around gymnastics gold medalist Tatiana Gutsu said that Vitaly Scherbo, the 1992 Olympic all-around champion, had raped her in 1991. Gutsu was just 15 years old at the time.
The story has received widespread coverage in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. (Gutsu and Scherbo both competed for the Soviet Union and were from Ukraine and Belarus, respectively.) Most of that media attention has been unfavorable to Gutsu, questioning both the veracity of her claims and why she waited so long to tell her story.
That Russian and FSU media would react this way to allegations of rape and sexual violence is not surprising. Foreign Policy reported that the Russian media response to the onslaught of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein has been to shame and blame the victims for failing to speak out for years.
Gutsu experienced this firsthand when she appeared as a guest on Pyramoy Efir in Russia a couple of days ago.
Gutsu, for the first time, described in devastating detail what Scherbo did to her in 1991. She said that after the competition Scherbo came to the room she was sharing with fellow gymnast Tatiana Toropova:
That night, when we were already in the hotel, Vitaly Scherbo came to our room with champagne. I don’t know how much I drank and I don’t know how much I smoked [cigarettes] because I was smoking and I was coughing.
When I came to [long pause, barely holding tears] it was very dark. It was scarily dark. My hands were held like this [puts hands together as if bound] with such strong force. I was lying on my stomach, my face was slammed into the pillow like this. I don’t know for how long he’s been doing it to me, but when I came to and he realized that I’m conscious, he pressed his hand to my mouth like this [presses her hand to her mouth], so that I wouldn’t be able to say anything. I gathered all my strength, everything I had, to get away, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I was trying. I couldn’t even scream.
I couldn’t get away, I was trying, I was trying to get away. I came to because everything [in my body] was burning, and because I was hurting and because I was scared and I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. [cries]
When he finished what he was doing he only whispered one word“Nikomu” [to no one]. I was lying on my bed. I was just waiting for the door closing shut so that he wouldn’t be there.
I ran to the toilet. While I was running, I peed myself. I peed myself because of fear, because of pain. I wasn’t wearing clothes, I was only wearing a top, a t-shirt, I was in socks and a top. I felt sick all night and all morning.
Gutsu said that in 2012, she called Scherbo and confronted him about what happened in 1991. Scherbo didn’t exactly respond with remorse and contrition:
In 2012, I called him [Scherbo] and I told him, “I know what you did to me.” I expected a different answer to that, I expected, maybe, an apology, I hope for something. But I got an entirely different response, I was told that no one would ever believe me and that I can fuck off.
Scherbo has yet to speak publicly about the allegations, but he scarcely needs to defend himself—at least not in Russia or any of the former Soviet states. As Gutsu watched via video from the U.S., one person after another questioned her account and her credibility. Among the skeptics was former Russian/Soviet head teach coach Leonid Arkayev. According to Gymnovosti, Arkayev, who was in charge of the team at the time of the alleged assault, claimed “that he maintained strict discipline on the team and never allowed gymnasts to drink.” But as blogger Luba noted, many Russian gymnasts—not just Gutsu—have spoken about drinking after competitions. Svetlana Khorkina, who, when she isn’t comparing WADA to the Nazis in her memoir, writes about getting drunk after the Olympics in Atlanta when she was just 17. Arkayev has been accused of behaving inappropriately with female gymnasts, too, so he may not be the most credible person to speak on this topic.
Also not a credible character witness: Gutsu’s ex-husband who spent 90 days in prison for assaulting her. And yet he was also interviewed on the program.
Gutsu took to Facebook shortly after the taping of the program to complain about how she was treated. She asked, “How Andrei Malahov (Pryamoi Efir) can discuss in the studio my story when I did not have anyone representing me?” The only people in the studio who seemed to be supportive of Gutsu were a couple of young women in the audience and one guest, who was a blogger.
“The show was doomed from the beginning,” Gutsu wrote.
H/t and translation: Gymnovosti