Li Li Leung spent two years watching USA Gymnastics struggle through the aftermath of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
Leung, a former college gymnast at the University of Michigan who still considered herself ‘‘embedded’’ in the sport while serving as a vice president with the NBA, kept waiting for things to get better.
Only they didn't. Leadership changed. More and more survivors stepped forward to detail their experiences at the hands of Nassar, a former national team doctor. The United States Olympic Committee began the process of stripping USA Gymnastics of its status as the national governing body. One of the US Olympic movement’s marquee programs was rudderless and fighting for its survival.
‘‘I was frankly very, very disappointed in terms of where the sport and the organization had gotten to,’’ Leung said.
So disappointed that she felt compelled to come home.
USA Gymnastics hired Leung, 45, as its president and chief executive officer Tuesday, a job she accepted in an effort to help the organization and the sport find a way forward.
‘‘I have bled, sweated, and cried alongside my teammates as well as other team members and other gymnasts,’’ Leung said. ‘‘And it really broke my heart to see where the sport was. We can do better for the sport . . . Our gymnasts deserve better.’’
Leung is the fourth person to hold the position of president and CEO in the last two years. Steve Penny resigned under pressure in March 2017. His replacement, Kerry Perry, lasted less than a year when she stepped down under heavy scrutiny from the USOC last September.
The organization then turned to former US Representative Mary Bono on an interim basis last October, but she resigned after just four days, saying she felt her affiliation would be a ‘‘liability’’ after a social media post by Bono criticizing Nike and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew widespread scrutiny within the gymnastics community.
Leung acknowledged she is well aware of the churn at the top but added, ‘‘I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think I could have been successful in it.’’
Leung, who will begin her new position March 8, competed as a member of a US junior national training team and represented the United States in the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She helped Michigan win four Big Ten titles and served as a volunteer assistant gymnastics coach while earning two master’s degrees at UMass. Her professional stops include stints at USA Basketball and the NBA.
USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December in an effort to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces in courts across the country from athletes who blame the group for failing to supervise Nassar, a team doctor accused of molesting them.
Leung said she has already spoken to USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland and that ‘‘both sides are committed to working closely to resolve the decertification request.’’
‘‘We remain hopeful, that USA Gym will be the [national governing body] going forward,’’ Leung said.
Leung’s to-do list includes what she called ‘‘fair and equitable resolution’’ with Nassar survivors so ‘‘they can work with us to make the fundamental changes that are necessary.’’
John Manly, a California-based attorney representing dozens of athletes suing USA Gymnastics, dismissed Leung’s hire as ‘‘business as usual.’’ Manly called Leung ‘‘an insider’’ and said survivors were ‘‘ignored’’ after asking to be part of the process.