By Chris Korotky and Ashlee Buhler

Update: USA Gymnastics has responded with the following statement on the situation:

“Under the current National Team funding framework, which provides funding and health insurance directly to athletes from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, a total of twelve funded National Team spots were available. Because there were twelve athletes that filled the first two prioritized funding criteria for this cycle – selection to the Olympics and selection to World Championship Trials – the result was that Allan Bower, a current Olympic alternate, did not receive funding under the existing framework. Because of that, USA Gymnastics men’s program staff secured separate funding for Allan, outside of the current structure, through the end of August.”

“We know that this result – to have to make exceptions in order to partially fund an Olympic-alternate National Team athlete – is unacceptable. This situation has exposed a number of limitations in the funding structure and process, including in our own communication, that we deeply regret. We will immediately begin to work with the USOPC to improve the structure for future cycles. We sincerely apologize to Allan for the personal impact this has had on him at such an important time in his athletic career.” 

Original Article as it appeared on July 11, 2021:

Imagine one of the happiest moments of your life. After years and years of blood, sweat and tears given to the sport you love with all your heart, you achieve a milestone moment. The pinnacle of your career. The competitive honor of a lifetime. Imagine just days later, being at one of the lowest points you’ve ever experienced, in an intense battle to manage emotions of anger, sadness and frustration as you feel abandoned by that same sport.

For Allan Bower, he doesn’t have to imagine that. It’s his current reality.

On June 26, after an intense road through the U.S. Championships and the Olympic Trials, Bower was named one of five alternate athletes for the Tokyo Olympics. His charge: be ready to step in at a moment’s notice should any of the team of five not be able to fulfill their duties. Bower and his teammates were marched into the arena in Team USA apparel to thunderous applause as an exuberant crowd roared in approval. Confetti showered the group. Flash bulbs lit up the arena. And the megawatt smile on Bower’s face reflected the intense pride, fulfillment and honor of representing his country. “It’s a lot of emotions, a lot of thankfulness going through my head thinking of my parents and my friends and family and fiancé and coaches, everybody that had gotten me to that point,” Bower says of what raced through his head the moment he was named Olympic alternate. “It was a lot of happiness and a lot of hard work and dedication leading up to that point. So I couldn’t have been happier with standing up there and just being represented as an alternate for the United States team.”

But just days later, Bower would suffer a double punch to the gut. He would come to find out indirectly that he was the only one of the five named alternates not to receive USA Gymnastics national team funding to continue to support his journey in the sport.

On top of that, he was also the only one of the Olympic alternates not invited to the World Team selection camp later this year. And he wasn’t even told directly by National Team staff. He discovered a teammate had received an email with funding and camp information and realized he had not. “The day the announcement was made-only funded athletes were informed of their status,” his coach Mark Williams wrote in a post. “Unfunded National Team members weren’t even given the courtesy of notification–was the lowest I’ve ever seen Allan, who is among the most resilient athletes I’ve ever coached.” 

“I was very confused,” Bower told us of the situation. “I was very shocked and devastated because I felt like I deserved at least funding and at least an invite the World Team camp. But, I feel like that was ripped away from me. And we wouldn’t even have known until they released the [Men’s Program Committee] Minutes that I wouldn’t even have been on the team or funded. The only reason we actually knew that was because [teammate Gage Dyer] made the team and [my coach Mark Williams received his email].

“I went through some very, very tough emotions,” Bower says of this difficult stretch. “I felt like I was finally happy with being an alternate and for my performance and my entire career. And then I just felt like all that happiness was taken away from me. It really sucked. It’s been a hard couple of weeks…It’s difficult.”

Bower is not the only one losing sleep over this and having a hard time processing these decisions. In fact, there is straight-up outrage right now in the gymnastics community. Olympians from past Games are speaking out, and those slated to compete in the 2021 Games are also voicing their support for Bower (more on that below).

To rewind a bit, Bower has been “Mr. Standby” for Team USA this entire Olympic cycle. Not once, not twice, not three times, but four times on the World and Olympic stage now, he’s been next-in-line, named team alternate. 2017. 2018. 2019. 2021.

Each time, he’s had to continue to train exactly as if he were competing, to be able to step in at a moment’s notice. The mental and physical requirements are just the same – be routine ready to step on the sport’s biggest stages to represent the red, white and blue. 

Through two rounds of the U.S. Championships this year, Bower landed a top five finish, going 12-for-12 sets. Weeks later, at the Olympic Trials, he once again didn’t miss a beat, nailing all 12 routines to go 24-for-24 and notching a 7th place finish there. 

So, let’s get this straight. Top 5 on 5 events. Top 5 in the All-Around at Championships. Top 7 at Olympic Trials. Named to the group of 10 for the Olympic Games. Representing your country as a replacement athlete. Called upon to be ready to go in at a moment’s notice. Yet no room in the 12 funded team positions from USA Gymnastics? No room at the World Team Camp and Trials? Wow.  

All of this is set against a backdrop where USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung says that her focus and her mission is to put athlete’s first. It’s inconceivable that you could name an athlete as one of the ten gymnasts you are sending to Japan to the Olympic Games yet offer them no support. USAG has always been able to count on Allan. He cannot say the same of them. And what about Paul Juda, who actually earned silver internationally to actually get a +1 Olympic berth for Team USA, but was also denied funding (more on that separately to come). 

[Note: Inside Gymnastics sent an email directly to Leung and a media representative of USAG requesting response to the Bower situation. The communications representative responded, “We’re taking a look at this now,” but we have not received anything since. We will update this story once we do.]

It was Williams who exposed Bower’s situation in great detail. “Nothing that has happened could be reasonably seen as ‘athlete-centric,’ he wrote in a Facebook post. 

According to Williams, after a “strenuous and lengthy complaint,” Bower was awarded funding only for the next two months to cover his expenses through Tokyo. The original intention was to have him train for Team USA without any support or future competitive goal in mind. 

Bower thought about not coming forward to speak on the situation, but felt it important not only for himself, but athletes in the future. “At the end of the day, I really just don’t want this situation to happen to another kid that’s coming up that has that Olympic dream,” he says, voice trembling. “And. Yeah. If I could just prevent this from happening to anybody else.”

“As a parent it is so frustrating and disheartening to see your child go through this,” Bower’s mother Jane, a former Nebraska gymnast, said. “Allan has done everything asked of him and has loved the sport despite the ups and downs he has experienced. As parents you teach your kids that if you do the work, respect the process, you will be rewarded… I feel for any athlete that is treated this way. I pray that future gymnasts under this committee will not have to experience this emotional [rollercoaster] of being so excited one day to qualify to go to the Olympics and then told the next day that despite your hard work, dedication, consistency, humble attitude, love of the sport, top 7 or above finish, that what you have done for the last 20 years of your life to get to this point will not be recognized.” 

The move has national team members, past and present, frustrated with USA Gymnastics. “Absolutely mind blown by this,” former National Team member Sean Melton wrote of the situation. “Allan has been the most consistent competitor I’ve ever been around. Almost two decades in the USA program and to see him get treated like this hurts. Knowing Allan, he is going to keep moving forward and be the most prepared for Tokyo despite all of this nonsense. There is no explanation that can make this okay. One of the greatest competitors and even better guy outside of the gym.” 

2021 Olympian Sam Mikulak shared William’s post where he detailed the situation and remarked, “Being an alternate is tough. 4 times is even harder. Then to be cut. That’s cold.”

Even USA Today columnist Nancy Armour tweeted, “This letter from [Coach Mark Williams] is extraordinary. First, kudos to him for speaking out for his athlete. Second, what the what??? USAG’s mantra has been “athlete-centric,” and this…ain’t it.”

“7th at the Olympic Trials and not funded!?! Come on MPC you are better then this!” 2004 Olympian Guard Young wrote.
 
“This is so unacceptable,” Simone Biles said on her Instagram Story of the situation.
 
“I’m that first guy out of everything. And I’m kind of, like, left out of the loop,” Bower says. “I’ve talked to a bunch of the guys on the actual Olympic team and some of the alternates, and there’s been multiple Olympians that have reached out to me like, is this a mistake? How is this acceptable? How do they come to this decision?” Bower told us. “And it’s heartbreaking and just a lot of people are confused. I’m confused. It’s just very sad.”
 
Despite the sadness and frustration, in typical Bower fashion, he plans to soldier on and says he will be absolutely ready to go if called upon. “I was very happy with how the competition went [at the recent training camp], how my training was and how our team looked and performed. So, I’m excited for what’s to come next week, heading to Tokyo. We leave on Thursday, July 15… It’s just kind of like I pretend that I’m actually competing. I try to just do exactly what I would do leading up to the day of the competition and just put myself in that mindset.”
 
“From the earliest time that I can even think of, when I was competing out at 5 or 6 years-old, I would watch some of the guys on TV [at the Olympics] and just be like, ‘Man, that’s exactly what I want to do when I get older!’ Bower told us. “I wanted to compete at the Olympic Games and represent my country and the sport that I love. So from the very beginning of my career has always been a dream of mine.”
 
He’s given so much to the sport. He’s ranked as one of the top 7 gymnasts in the country this entire Olympic cycle. He’s sacrificed his personal life – including delaying his wedding and moving Med School plans to late 2022 to have a shot at the Olympics and World team in 2021. He’s been on standby four times for Team USA now. And he’s part of an elite group of ten heading to Tokyo for Team USA. Yet, he’s the only one of the ten not funded for the year and not invited to camp. It’s beyond difficult to understand how USA Gymnastics can turn its back on a guy like this.

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics

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