Top gymnast Williams leaves W. Va. gym

Updated: April 29, 2010, 11:58 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- World champion vaulter Kayla Williams and her coaches have parted ways and the West Virginia gymnast is looking for a new training site six months after her stunning victory in her first international meet.

The 16-year-old phenom left the Huntington gym where she's trained for 10 years following a dispute involving her parents and coaches Bozhi Russer and Hrabrina Spencer.

So far Williams has been turned down at other West Virginia gyms and her parents said Thursday they are considering moving their daughter out of state to find a suitor.

"I really don't know what's going to happen," Williams said. "I can't say I'm optimistic. I'm going to do what I can to fix this."

Williams became the first U.S. athlete to win a world women's vault title last October in the same London venue that will host Olympic gymnastics events in 2012. She had been competing at the level below elite only five months before.

Williams hasn't competed on a global scale since then.

She won the vault in the senior elite division at the WOGA Classic in Frisco, Texas, in February, but a 10th-place performance on the beam sent her to a third-place overall finish.

The dispute with her coaches involves a meet the following week in Virginia Beach, Va. The opening day of the competition was canceled because several competitors had backed out, but Spencer said Williams was expected to be there anyway for an evening autograph session.

Elizabeth Williams, the gymnast's mother, said because there would be no Friday competition, she didn't want her daughter, an honors student, to skip school that day just for autographs because she had already missed much class time due to competition and training commitments with the national team.

"We felt she could go down on Saturday, still compete and still sign autographs, and we gave them that option," Elizabeth Williams said. "We would have made her available to do whatever they were asking her do Saturday night or Sunday.

"Hrabrina was 'Friday night or nothing.'"

Spencer, who with her father coached Williams at Bozhi's Gym Nest since she was 6, said the family broke a commitment made months before.

"We're the coaches," Spencer said. "We're the ones that decide how her training goes, where she goes and how she presents the name of the gym and the coaches. She didn't show up."

William Williams made one last-ditch attempt at patching things up Wednesday. He showed up at the gym but said he was turned away.

"That to me settled there was never any possibility of going back to that gym, although I think Kayla and Elizabeth had already come to that conclusion," he said.

In West Virginia, Williams is considered the best Olympic prospect since Fairmont native Mary Lou Retton won gold in 1984 at the Los Angeles Games and makes monthly trips for national team training camps in Texas.

Kayla Williams hasn't compete in an international meet since her world title. Sam Kilgore, a spokeswoman for USA Gymnastics, said most national team members compete in two to three international meets per year.

The next national training camp meeting is in late May.

"It's going to take a few good weeks of hard practice to get her back where she needs to be," Elizabeth Williams said.

Kayla Williams, a junior at Huntington High school, also is looking ahead to college and has narrowed down her choices to UCLA, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia and Michigan. She still has some campus visits to make.

"I've never taken more than the weekend off in the 10 years that I've been training," Williams said. "I've been off for almost two months now. It's definitely starting to stress me out. I'm worried about not only my elite career but my college career. If there's one thing I want to get out of all this is a scholarship.

"Right now my main focus is getting back into a gym. I'm no help to those schools if I'm not training."

William Williams said he's awaiting a call back from a gym in the Charleston area before making a decision. He refused to name the gym, but said if if it didn't work, he's prepared to move his daughter out of state.

"More than likely it will either be Kayla going to live with family or Kayla, Elizabeth and our two baby girls going to live in some location until she completes her training," he said.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press