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T&T gymnast, Thema Williams, fights ‘character assassination’ after circulated photo

Twenty year old gymnast, Thema Williams, has vowed to remain focused on her dream of doing Trinidad and Tobago proud at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, despite falling victim to perceived character assassination yesterday.

At around noon yesterday, Georgette Heinz, the self-declared mother of an unnamed young female gymnast, sent a topless photograph of Williams to the Trinidad and Tobago media, the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) and members of the local gymnastics fraternity.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams. (Courtesy Heritage Radio)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams.
(Courtesy Heritage Radio)

The photograph, which was posted on Williams’ Instagram page, was captioned: “Being a Black Woman is an honour… Always.”

Williams covered up competently with her arms and there was no exposure of her breasts in the shot, although it was clear that she did not have a top on.

Heinz called the photograph “disgraceful” and demanded that the TTGF take action against the gifted athlete.

“Absolutely disgraceful for a young lady who supposedly represents the best that Trinidad and Tobago has to offer,” stated Heinz. “What kind of example is this? Should this be the standard that we uphold our future Olympians to?

“I, for one, will no longer support the sport or the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation if they continue to allow this to happen.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams.

Wired868 searched online and asked members of the local gymnastics fraternity if they had ever heard of “Georgette Heinz.” The response was negative in every case.

Yet, TTGF secretary Elicia Peters Charles said the local board will meet tomorrow to discuss Heinz’s email and promised to announce a decision immediately afterwards.

“We have received calls from the press about the photograph,” Peters Charles told Wired868. “The board will meet to discuss it tomorrow and we will announce a decision after that.”

For Williams, it is the last and the lowest of the obstacles she has faced since her historic finish at the Glasgow 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics championship made her the first Trinidad and Tobago gymnast to qualify for an Olympic Games, barring her participation at the Olympic Test event in April.

The former St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) student explained that she took the photograph in February 2015 and meant for it to be viewed as an artistic appreciation of the female African body.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams performs at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. Williams is in line to be Trinidad and Tobago's first gymnast to perform at an Olympic Games. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams performs at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.
Williams is in line to be Trinidad and Tobago’s first gymnast to perform at an Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

However, she took it down within a day when her American coach, John Geddert, voiced concerns.

Williams did not think much of it again, until it suddenly resurfaced yesterday attached to an angry message.

At present, Williams is preparing for the Olympic Test event in April in Rio, which serves as the final qualifier for the Games. Marisa Dick, a Canada-born gymnast who is eligible to represent Trinidad and Tobago through her mother, Hannifer, is the alternative and will take Williams’ place if she is ruled out.

There will be no chance for a swap after the April event.

“I posted that image a year ago and that person held it for a year to use it, so personally I think it was just an opportune time to attack me,” Williams told Wired868. “I won’t say it is appropriate for my entire audience because I do have younger fans. So I feel sorry for any younger fans who felt offended and that’s why I took it down.

“It was supposed to be about appreciation for your body, especially in the skin that I am in. The caption itself said I am a proud black woman.

“I am into African art and a lot of that deals with the female body and shape of body and so on. For me, it was about bodily appreciation.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams. Williams said she left this photo up for just one day before removing it in February 2015. It was circulated today by "Georgette Heinz." (Courtesy Georgette Heinz)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams.
Williams said she left this photo up for just one day before removing it in February 2015.
It was circulated today by “Georgette Heinz.” The photograph was republished with the permission of Thema Williams.
(Courtesy Georgette Heinz)

The TTGF gave little away in terms of how the board views the photograph and what the possible implications might be.

Williams told Wired868 that, notwithstanding the TTGF’s meeting tomorrow to specifically address the photograph, nobody from the local body has contacted her for comment.

“My inner peace is not tampered with easily,” said Williams. “It has stressed me but it won’t throw me off…”

Williams was just nine years old and a student at the Diamond Vale Government Primary School when she first represented Trinidad and Tobago. And, at 10, she became the youngest nominee ever for the Sportswoman of the Year award.

The Tots and Tumblers starlet went on to become the first local gymnast to represent her country at the Pan American Games and World Championship. But she said the Olympic Games was always her dream.

At the Japan 2011 World Artistic Championships, Williams failed to make the grade for the London 2012 Olympics.

It only made her redouble her efforts.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (right column, middle row) declares her passion for gymnastics while at Diamond Vale Government Primary School.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (right column, middle row) declares her passion for gymnastics while at Diamond Vale Government Primary School.

In 2014, she decided to snub a full gymnastics scholarship from the Michigan State University and take a two-year break instead to focus on her craft and another shot at the Olympics.

She also chose to leave Trinidad and join Geddert in Michigan, where she could benefit from improved facilities.

“At Tots and Tumblers, we don’t have the availability of pits which are important in learning new skills and so on,” said Williams. “We didn’t have a full floor either, so I couldn’t do a full routine… I would have to stop my music and run back to the start of the floor. So I moved (to Michigan) in 2014 right after my exams.”

As Williams and Dick prepared for last year’s Glasgow World Championship, they were sent contracts which spelt out the value of the competition. Trinidad and Tobago had only one Women’s Artistic Gymnastics spot for the Rio Olympics and it would go to the better of the two athletes at that event.

“The WAG gymnast who scores the highest all-around score at the World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow 2015,” stated the TTGF contract, which was provided to Wired868 on the condition of anonymity, “will be the athlete selected by the TTGF Selection Committee to move forward to represent TTO at the Olympic Test Event in Rio, Brazil in April 2016 once her scores allow her selection by FIG to this event.”

Williams placed 59th overall—a record for a Trinidad and Tobago gymnast—while Dick placed 77th out of 192 participants.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick.

Yet, a month after the competition, the TTGF still had not officially announced that Williams had qualified to move a step closet to Rio and there were media suggestions—not attributed to a direct source—that the two gymnasts would instead square off in two other meets to decide the best representative.

In an email to the TTGF, which is headed by president David Marquez, Williams’ mother, Helen Adams, slammed the “unreasonable and unjustifiable delay” in declaring its choice for the Rio Games.

“I would certainly hope that this is not a deliberate attempt to frustrate and prejudice the physical and mental preparation of an athlete,” stated Adams, in a correspondence also forwarded to Wired868. “… The continuing delay by the TTGF could have the consequence of denying the athlete to requisite preparation and training.

“The lack of response and continuing delay suggests that the TTGF is acting in an unreasonable and irresponsible manner and not in the best interest of the athlete.”

Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis met with the TTGF on the issue and told Wired868 that Williams was the chosen gymnast.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis (left) with a delegate at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. (Courtesy TTOC)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis (left) with a delegate at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
(Courtesy TTOC)

“The athletes are preparing for an Olympic Test event in Brazil, which is the final qualifier,” said Lewis. “As far as the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee is aware, Thema Williams is the athlete representing Trinidad and Tobago at this qualifier, which is in April, and Marisa Dick is the alternate.”

Yet, uncertainty still hung in the air over the young Trinidad and Tobago athlete.

Last month, when Dick earned her own bit of history by patenting a signature mount named after her, she told the Edmonton AM that she was still in the race to get to Rio.

“Only one of us gets to go to the Olympics, so it’s kind of a cutthroat time,” said Dick, in Edmonton’s CBS News. “But it’s exciting.”

Weeks earlier, the TTGF named Dick as its 2015 nominee for the Sportswoman of the Year award, although Williams became the first Trinidad and Tobago gymnast to ever qualify for an Olympics in that same year.

Williams admitted that the simmering distrust over the TTFG’s  handling of its first ever Olympic berth has placed a strain on her relationship with Dick.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick. (Courtesy Sport Archives TT)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick.
(Courtesy Sport Archives TT)

“(Dick) was very aware of the contract before we entered the World competition but she hasn’t said so,” said Williams. “We are teammates and we are normal (with each other) when we meet up. But there has been a little bit of awkwardness.”

Williams responded defiantly to the unnamed persons who were trying to take away what she earned in Scotland.

“When you are at the top, vindictive people always lurk and wait for a moment to pounce,” Williams told Wired868. “But my focus right now is the Olympics, so any curveball they throw at me I will be ready.

“I know that I will have to be mindful now of what I do and what I post, because anything that goes online is available for anyone to see.

“And there will be snakes in the grass waiting for the opportune moment.”

Andreas Stueven, the Trinidad and Tobago Triathlon Federation president, said the photograph was a storm in a teacup.

“I do not think that this is a particularly raunchy or unbecoming picture for my taste,” Stueven told Wired868. “Young people—girls and boys—are exploring their sexuality and once it stays within boundaries, I do not see that as raunchy. If you google Sports Illustrated, you will find a lot of pictures and some of them probably ‘raunchier’ than this one.

“Athletes train (and) as a byproduct they have sexy bodies. That applies again to male and female alike. Thema is not the only athlete to pose and show the result of her hard work.

“I know a few others personally and if you again google you will find a lot of celebrity athletes having posed for similar pictures. I do not see this as unbecoming.”

Lewis had not seen the photograph but was willing to comment briefly based on information provided by Wired868. And the TTOC president was concerned about the timing of the circulation of the photograph, for more reasons than one.

“The TTOC is very athlete-centred and athlete-focused and therefore at this point in time,” said Lewis, “all our Olympic athletes are very focused on preparing for whatever various qualification they have.

“They are at a crucial time with the Olympic Games just months away.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's gold medalist Keshorn Walcott (centre), Ukraine's silver medalist Oleksandr Pyatnytsa (left) and Finland's bronze medalist Antti Ruuskanen, pose on the podium of the men's javelin throw at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 11, 2012 in London. (Copyright AFP 2016/Johannes Eisele)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s gold medalist Keshorn Walcott (centre), Ukraine’s silver medalist Oleksandr Pyatnytsa (left) and Finland’s bronze medalist Antti Ruuskanen, pose on the podium of the men’s javelin throw at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 11, 2012 in London.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Johannes Eisele)

“The timing of the release of such a picture, which I have not seen, is concerning because it distracts both the athlete and the administrators from what should be the focus, which is preparing for an upcoming Test Event which forms the final qualifier for Rio 2016.”

The TTGF letter sent to Williams and Dick before the Glasgow World competition noted only two reasons for an athlete to be ruled out of the Olympics: doping and injury.

However, a subsequent contract listed another criteria under the heading of “Ambassador of the Sport” and both girls were required to swear that: “I am a representative of TTFG and must conduct myself in a manner that upholds the name, reputation and goodwill of TTGF… As such, my conduct publicly known and not publicly known must not reflect poorly upon or bring discredit to TTGF, its other athletes, its coaches or its events and programs.

“My conduct extends beyond actions on the field of play, including but not limited to

actions/posting/images disseminated in the public domain.”

The TTGF will likely muse over that clause this evening, before arriving at a decision.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams performs a handstand at John Geddert's Twisters Gymnastics Club in Michigan. (Courtesy Thema Williams)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams performs a handstand at John Geddert’s Twisters Gymnastics Club in Michigan.
(Courtesy Thema Williams)

Williams refused to even contemplate missing out on Rio.

“I have been representing my country since I was nine years old and my dream was always to represent Trinidad and Tobago in the Olympics,” Williams told Wired868. “For me to do that would mean everything to me. People thought I was crazy to turn down a full scholarship to train for the Olympics. I put a lot of work and sacrifice into this.

“It would mean so much for me to be out there with the Trinidad and Tobago flag flying high.”

Photo: Young gymnasts in Trinidad and Tobago. (Copyright TT Sportslink)
Photo: Young gymnasts in Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright TT Sportslink)

Editor’s Note: The photograph of Thema Williams was published in Wired868 with the permission of the gymnast.

The following is the email from “Georgette Heinz” to the local media and gymnastic community:

As a parent of a young gymnast I must relay my shock when my daughter was looking for pictures of her favourite gymnast Thema Williams and what does she see but this.

Absolutely disgraceful for a young lady who supposedly represents the best that Trinidad and Tobago has to offer. What kind of example is this? Should this be the standard that we uphold our future Olympians to?

I, for one, will no longer support the sport or the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation if they continue to allow this to happen. When my daughter said “why doesn’t she have a top on?” I was completely horrified. I thought that I would send this to you as I am sure I am not the first person who has been appalled by this.

I believe it warrants further investigation. Why does a sport governing body allow an Olympic hopeful to do this? She is supposed to represent the best TTO has to offer.

If this is all TTO has to offer then why bother? Thank you for listening.

(Thema Williams)

In response, Thema Williams explained that the photograph in question was meant to be an artistic appreciation of her body. However, she said she took it off her Instagram account within 24 hours, exactly 12 months ago.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the follow-up as the TTGF is rocked by a second ‘lewd’ photo—and, this time, it is a snap of Williams’ rival, Marisa Dick.

 

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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385 comments

  1. this has gone from the subliime to the ridiculous

  2. hmmmm seems like either someone covering tracks or someone within the Federation or sport playing the ass….Next thing they want to send me to represent? lol Ooops I have much worse pics??

  3. Honestly my first reaction to that bit of info is to make us sympathetic to her and not think she’s involved..sorry maybe I’m wrong

  4. and now another pic is being sent around of the other athlete?! OMG who is behind all of this mess?

  5. She unfit to represent T and T but the local sex tape star was fit to be made a cultural ambassador at some point?! Look miss me with that f*!xry and where Womantra I hope they planning a protest!

  6. A non issue…y we getting distracted from the real issues so easily?

  7. Good luck young lady . I really wish them all well.

  8. I won’t be surprised if Ms Heinz is perhaps a good family friend of Thema’s ‘ replacement ‘.

  9. This is clearly a case of character assassination , whoever Ms Heinz is seem to have waited for the perfect time to launch this desperate attack . Based on the comprehensive report one can really decipher if her photo is justification to replace her . I do hope the board use sound judgement in making a decision .

  10. yet dwayne bravo still plays cricket even after that scandal he had with the reporter.

  11. WHY WE LIKE TO FIGHT DOWN PEOPLE SO FOR

  12. I am sure that the person or persons who are trying to sabotage ms Williams was in the March last week against Tim Kee saying goes that women have a right to dress as they want and wear what the feel. Now they suddenly have a problem with Ms Williams who is more covered up than some of them who was in costume. #dontwanttosayitsracebut

  13. Thema Williams you have the support of many TT nationals. Do your best to stay focused on your mission at hand and let the Lord our God deal with this person who is trying to derail you from your journey and goals. Stay true and faithful to God and all you deserve will be delivered to you. Good luck!!!!

  14. “Vexatious and frivolous” is the phrase that comes to mind

  15. There is nothing vulgar about this photo. … this shouldn’t be an issue for the board to discuss. … obviously this person is jealous…

  16. so there is an agenda to block this young athlete from competing in Rio? Who do the unnamed parties of party want to replace her with?

  17. You all don’t get tired Wish the Thema well and support her journey. Young Lady Congratulation Represent Represent..

  18. Seriously I want her there for her gymnastic abilities don’t see any problems many athletes have pictures like this

  19. Heinz is obviously jealous of Williams but my question is why did Williams put herself in a position where someone coild have the upper hand on her.
    You are a gymnast not a stripper.
    I guess it is the folly of youth.

  20. Heinz need to cool sheself. There is nothing even remotely risque about that picture. When they dressed in their competition clothes much less is left to the imagination as you see them contour in various ways while wearing what resembles a one piece bathing suit. This woman either doesn’t like Thelma or has a hidden agenda to present this so long after the young lady voluntarily took it down. I hope these people make the sensible decision to ignore this woman’s grievance and allow TW who earned the opportunity to continue to represent T&T.

  21. Where are the women’s group to protest the assassination of young lady’s character. She worked too hard to achieve her goals, to have it snuffed away so easily. You have my support Ms. Thema Williams. I pray you make it to the Olympics and proudly represent Trinidad and Tobago.

  22. They trying every which way but failing every time

  23. makes you wonder about the patented move, the athlete of the year,,it all seems to be geared towards a particular trajectory, ie justifying her eligibility for the ONE position

  24. when was the date of the signing of the Ambassador clause?

  25. straight talk: The pics look like some Annie Leibovitz’ work.
    Chick look good.

  26. I want to hear the outcome of this “meeting”

  27. Anyone seeing the picture spoken about by some deranged mind or rather some infantile mind who nobody seems to know if this person exists at all tells a completely different story. In words of an old hymn she can go to hell

  28. Anyone seeing the picture spoken about by some deranged mind or rather some infantile mind who nobody seems to know if this person exists at all tells a completely different story. In words of an old hymn she can go to hell

  29. Black beautiful and proud young lady…

  30. To me the fact that the TTGF even give this a thought does not bode well. It should have been dismissed outright but we’ll see.

  31. They are really beautiful, artistic photos. Nothing lewd or raunchy about them. She has every right to be proud. She is beautiful, talented and gifted and she works hard to get where she wants to go. And go she should!!!! She has my support.

  32. They need to leave this young lady alone.

  33. I am also a former national athlete. It is heartbreaking when an athlete has to spend important time and energy on non consquential things such as this. She should be focussing on her upcoming event in April. I loathe the “soccer mum” syndrome where parents want to fight battles for their children even if their children are sometimes not deserving of places that they are aiming for. The mother in this story just seems to be going off the deep end as far as I am concerned. I hope that Thema just blocks this all out and does her best, cause I think she has a damn good chance of going to Rio. I hope she does because I will be one of those cheering the loudest.

  34. Let a 18-year-old male waterpolo player post a pic of him in his jockeys. Wonder if anyone would kick up a fuss about his representing the country.

  35. What’s most annoying about this whole thing is considering Thema’s age. Who the hell is Ms Heinz to criticize Thema, a 20 year old adult? Also, does this human condiment not know what Instagram is? What she expects her daughter to flick through pics of only kittens and sunsets? But we know modern parents aren’t that naive. That’s why this has victimization written all over it.

  36. Leslie-Ann I couldn’t agree with you more. As a former athlete, I could just imagine what she is going through. It is not nice when your fellow athletes treat you “cold”, but when it is coming from admin. And you know you did nothing wrong it stinks to high heavens!

  37. I was under the impression that there were rules and procedures with respect to qualifying. Thema qualified ahead of all other TT gymnists which according to what I read makes her the top candidate. There are ulterior machinations going on behind the scenes on the part of coaches and parents. The top performing athelete shoudl be the one to represent, in my humble opinion.

  38. Well this is will be a clear case of victimization if that snake who is trying to bump Thema off her rightful spot succeeds. She has to fight this in court as soon as possible. She will win.

  39. this smacks of underlying motives to releasing this pic at the time and in the manner that it was. There seems to be underlying tension between Thema and another athelete about qualifying for Rio. There is a lot more in the mortar than the pestle