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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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384 comments

  1. Still waiting to see “Miss Heinz” come forward and stand up for her convictions! Where are you “Miss Heinz”?

  2. You didn’t think of the repercussion of your actions…well it’s your body, and the people’s freedom of information to make your decision viral. So disappointed.

  3. If u didn’t want this reaction don’t do stupid things hope she learns a lesson

  4. A gun can do little damage without ammunition. …….5 men have unprotected sex with a woman she gets pregnant and calls one man name; if he did not put himself there his name could not get called……my point is you have to use judgement especially when spotlight is on you there will always be “heinz” in the world dont give ammunition. …. notice her coach had concerns he knew what could happen…..I AM NOT SAYING DENY HER THE CHANCE i am saying dont downplay her actions she herself took down the picture after 1 day….

  5. The silence from the Gymnastic Federation is deafening.

  6. People doing like if dey is saint eh. Y u all dont count ur sins n den talk.

  7. Y all you dont leave this exceptionally talented youth to do her thing. U do good or bad they want to mash u up. People supporting politicians who thiefing out d country but want to mash up someone who is looking to bring fame to dis nation.

  8. Yes clearly someone with influence wants their kid on the squad and they will go to all lengths to discredit those young Olympic hopefuls, but what in the dark must come to light!

  9. I am willing to bet that whoever exposed the girls’ pictures has some family member she is trying to make room for on the team by getting rid of these two girls…in that disgusting way. She should be ashamed but l’m willing to bet she is not.

  10. I’m with you Thema. You go girl…blessings.

  11. one setta let down ……. drop dem

  12. And I am with you all the way in Jesus name

  13. When jealousy rears its ugly head you just have to keep on fighting u just do your best.

  14. In Trinidad and Tobago Carnival or not women walking naked…anybody get charged for that? I am not saying what happened is rite or wrong but…people be careful when you pelt stones you don’t have glass windows….or, it can bounce and hit rubber and come back and hit you in your face people!!!!!!!

  15. Go girl. Dats how sinners operate. Dey just criticize.

  16. If you know where snakes are,they cant bite you,press on sister

  17. Ruth-Miriam Garnett here’s a profile.

    • I reviewed the Guardian article on TTGF. There are clearly jealousies, vindictiveness and Canadian nationalism afoot. Neither Thema nor Marissa should be persecuted for anything done before their Olympics candidacy. I also found the nude ESPN photos of Venus and Serena–quite moving, goddess caliber. However, I invited these images into my consciousness by seeking them out. Certainly, they were not thrust onto me in an inappropriate context. Here’s why I think the post-topless preemptive discipline is a good sign for both girls, signaling TTGF wishes them to stay in the running, albeit with non-athletic qualifying features.
      I do not compare Thema with Melania (Trump). Clearly, the former has awe-inspiring dedication, which engenders indisputable substance and character. However, if Thema’s chosen context is pre-Olympian, she must observe what are innately taboo signifiers to persons wishing to her, and thus elevating Trinidad in the sports arena.
      Following, I quote myself: “Rituals reflecting the obscene/profane, occur (and recur) in opposition to the sacred among all human groups. Think Carnival, immediately followed by Lent. Minus the opposition, you have something devoid of meaning and thereby distorting the depth of human experience.
      In that regard, the Trumps reflect a mutual narcissism, their insularity achieving merely the banal, alongside the provocative.. Something is not shared, but imposed. A cheap thrill every now and again is okay; and reverence for the beauty of the human female nude always; but never in the White House—no bacchanals, too much at stake, decorum counts.”
      I hope that Thema will make the necessary sacrifices, for the sake of her country. Clearly, erotica is not the sum total of who she is, nor is it of anyone of us. Not essentially a sports fan, from my limited observation, I say with caution that the Olympics is the religion of its purveyors. One does not approach the communion rail and do a striptease at the altar.
      We are both spiritual and erotic animals. If we are wise, the former will dominate our lives. However, if we are wise, we understand the clarity provided by the latter and enjoy opportunities for its unveiling.
      Thanks for including me in this dialogue.

    • I think only good could come out of this. Thanks for lending your eloquent insights to the discussion.

  18. Go to another island and represent them these stupid racist is envious of you they want some little white girl to go in your space Trinidad again they like to send their friends to represent Trinidad and then when they come back they make some stupid excuse why we did not medal that is why all the sports in T&T is failing sending friends and family to represent and not the talented .

  19. Nakedness is NOT pyrography! A clothed person can be very perversely, sexually explicit. It is all in the intent. But the pervert and spiritually weak would ‘see’ porn everywhere because it is in their hearts.

  20. I am with you all the way Amen

  21. Imagine you have to fight to represent your country!! Wow where are all the so called women’s group?? Full of crap they pick and choose who to fight for !!

  22. A lot of hue and cry about nothing………..let miss Heinz go take a very long walk through the sahara desert.

  23. Adelagun Harrington these people are so coward and spineless…

  24. What’s the big deal is just breast stdups

  25. Forget the pictures, in an interview she adamantly declared that she is a Canadian! Strange.

  26. What nonsense ,she was well covered in that photograph .Leave the poor woman alone

  27. This was your choice so live with the consequences of your actions

  28. I see nothing wrong in what she did, matter of fact I take pleasure in knowing she’s being hounded about it. There is a lesson to be learnt in responsibility if action as a public figure for much later in the game.

  29. sport is discipline …….thats why everyone cant compete …….young eyes are watching an what you do as a superstar reflects on younger ones vision …………the uniform you wear isnt skimpy enough? seems nudity is a big in thing in trinidad when your own child does the same same hope you dont throw a fit ……the world is a circle dont forget

  30. Every negative thing these youths see via the net or in mags,they want to try it,stuepzzz. being decent is the best thing.

  31. This is absolute rubbish. Women at Carnival reveal substantially more than these young ladies did. Did anyone see the completely nude photos ( with no revelations ) of international sports personalities, many of whom will be at the Olympics????

  32. Much ado about nothing! This is malicious and designed to psychologically abuse this great athlete. At a time when she needs to be so focused on her lifelong goal they are trying to destroy her! That picture shows nothing revealing except her arms. Are we serious here, what kind of hypocrisy is this. Interesting that this new picture of dick has surfaced. That to me shows a whole lot more! Make the right decision and let Thema get back to her training with the support of this entire country. God bless her and keep all her enemies at bay. Cover her with all your blessings!!!

  33. Turnaround is fair play. All unfair games does play twice! U mean Georgette didn’t check the other one skeleton closet first?Eeheheheeee*diabolical laughter*

  34. I don’t really support public exposure of the body, but fight them girl. People are toooooo selfish now and would do anything to cause confusion, mayhem and defamation of character. TTGF please save these young people!

  35. hey Lasana Liburd what’s the TTGF’s position on the qualifying process and the timelines of that aspect of the whole issue? have they made a statement?

  36. I wonder if “ms Heinz ” is morally outraged by this pic too?

  37. What madness is it , what’s the real agenda of one Heinz . Why is she dragging the sport in the mud steupsssssss

  38. What madness is it , what’s the real agenda of one Heinz . Why is she dragging the sport in the mud steupsssssss

  39. Look like Georgette Heinz move backfired. I hope he/she feels like an ass. Wait lets see if he/she follows up the scathing letter regarding Thelma with one concerning Dick. After all “Georgette’s” tone suggested one of moral outrage so whomever is behind that name should now be equally appalled by the surfacing of the alternate gymnast “revealing” photo. *not holding my breath lol

  40. The answer can be easily had. Who stands to benefit the most from her non participation? Who is aggrieved enough to be this desperate? Which adult is hurting badly and can’t stand the fact that their kid did not make the cut and will make sure that they will no longer cry those tears of disappointment and be on that squad? Anyway whoever is this desperate is clearly not in sync with current trends. SI (sports illustrated) has an annual body beautiful issue in which current sports stars pose nude, save for a ball, racket or whatever prop is practical, to hide the vulnerable areas. The attempt by that adult reeks of sabotage and simple mindedness. What a shame.

  41. Steups! Here we go again. Hopefully folks will refrain from heaping scorn on Ms Dick and attacking her now.

  42. So we can eliminate Dick and her family as wanting to tarnish Williams’ reputation and replace her at the Olympics. Who else is in line if they both were disqualified?

  43. More smoke and mirrors, the choice should be pretty clear from here.

  44. well now that there are two pics – they technically cancel out each other and the TTGF should now make the decision based on the rules – who is the higher ranked athlete and that one should be the choice. Easy Peasy.