What Happened To Gracie V??
Hollywood has their Shia Le Beouf. Music has their Britney Spears. Basketball has their Dennis Rodman. Looks like we have our Gracie V.
Over the last few weeks, the internet has been fired up over Kern Open Meet Director and (now former) USPA Representative Gracie Vanesse's brash email towards a potential competitor.
For those who don't know, the Kern Open was a uniquely competitive meet held earlier this year that featured a roster dense with world-class lifters. Multiple $40,000 prize packages were given, which is an unheard of incentive in this field, and that was good enough to bring out the heaviest of hitters.
To solidify the roster for next year's Kern, the meet was given an 'Open' format instead of invite only. So long as a certain list of requirements were met, athletes could submit an application to get themselves on the platform at one of the biggest shows around. One lifter in particular, mistakenly thinking she met the standards, submitted an application and was met with the following reply:
Soledad: I'd like to compete
Gracie V: You're wasting my fucking time
I'll be the first to say when someone is having thin skin or when standards are being thrown out the window in an effort to preserve someone's feelings. This wasn't that. Gracie, who was acting as director of the meet and a USPA representative, made a conscious decision to answer a run-of-the-mill email to a patron with a brash, condescending, belittling tone.
No, I don't think powerlifting has anything to do with 'inclusiveness' or 'kindness'. It's an individual sport that rewards big totals, not empathy or compassion.
No, I don't think there is a connection between lifting weights competitively and some moral compass for personal interactions. Some of the all-time-greats were complete dickheads.
I think that, as an individual, you deserve blowback for being moody and unreasonable.
I think that, as a professional, you deserve to get fired for it.
To add to the hypocrisy, there have been a few reports of lifters having competed this year (or signed up to compete next year) who actually have a comparable Wilks to Soledad.
Obviously, favoritism in barbell sports is nothing new. Most promoters and organizations will give special consideration to those they know personally. In fact, when the money gets as big as it is in bodybuilding, favoritism will go to whichever competitor is more loose with their sexual hangups (think about that next time you talk about 'growing the sport').
Par for the course or not, such blatant double standards certainly make the over-reaction that much more cartoonish.
To bring us up to the present, Steve Denison, head of USPA, sent out a memo informing the public of his decision to no longer sanction the Kern Open and to remove Gracie Vanesse's affiliation with the USPA. The response was every bit as dry, procedural, and undramatic as you would expect from a professional organization that wishes to be viewed as, well, professional. I actually felt a twinge of respect for the USPA, an organization I've previously railed for being 'too procedural'.
But this is how the world works. When you represent an entity larger than yourself, you are on the hook for how your words and actions represent that organization. I firmly believe Steve Denison would have liked to keep the Kern under USPA rule, but it seems that Gracie and Kern have a personal relationship (he's a member at Gracie's gym). Steve made a big decision removing himself from the whole fiasco, and it makes me wonder how many issues have come before to result in such a final decision.
The Kern is still alive and well, taking up sanctioned status with World Raw Powerlifting Federation.
Never heard of them? Neither have I.
But this just goes to show how unimportant the sanctioning bodies are in a sport where there are a lot of goddamn sanctioning bodies. What matters more to a meet is how competent and hardworking the promoters are and how much of an incentive the lifters have to show up.
At this point, I'm wondering why Kern just doesn't forego sanctioning. I can't imagine someone foregoing a shot at that money, or just a chance to lift next to the all-time greats, simply because someone with a federation-embroidered polo shirt wasn't holding the clipboard.
Post Wilks-gate, the comment sections of Facebook and Instagram tend to be anecdotal parades of the trail of sour grapes that Gracie has left behind over the years. TL;DR It's a long trail.
There's a certain type of public persona that builds itself up over time with a harsh, tempermental, drill-instructor like tone. The 'internet asshole' bit can sell, when applied appropriately, and many popular figures have made their money by pushing that character. I think Gracie is someone who tried falling into that bit because it's easy and people respond to it. But I'm not sure she knows where that bit ends and she begins.
At some point, you're no longer selling a brand: you're just an asshole.
Aside from the shit show that is her public persona, I especially enjoy the predictable string of soap-box commentary and social media protests that pop up after an incident like this. Women's powerlifting groups have taken extra interest in boycotting the Kern, which I find..... puzzling (I wonder if elevated test levels make you a de facto part of the patriarchy).
As if I wasn't excited enough about Game of Thrones and Avengers: Infinity War 2, I, for one, am looking forward to the 2019 Kern Open and all of the discussion that will surely surround it. The lifters will get bigger and better and the spotlight on Gracie V and her self-destructive streak will surely gain more attention. As much as criticism as I can give an individual for acting like a child, the part of me that wants to watch the world burn hopes Gracie doesn't shy away from her Gmail account.