Olympians, UCLA gymnasts express support for former coach Chris Waller

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WESTWOOD, CA -- DECEMBER 14, 2019: Chris Waller is the new UCLA gymnastics head coach. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Chris Waller spent 20 years coaching UCLA gymnasts, including three as the head coach, before resigning in April. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

More than 175 current and former gymnasts and parents, including Olympic medalists and UCLA stars, are expressing their support for former UCLA coach Chris Waller in a statement provided to The Times.

Among those expressing gratitude for Waller's dedication after the coach resigned in April: Olympians Samantha Peszek, Mohini Bhardwaj Barry and Danusia Francis; UCLA star Katelyn Ohashi; and current UCLA gymnasts Emily Lee, Emma Malabuyo and Ana Padarariu. Waller’s three-year tenure as the celebrated gymnastics program’s head coach ended amid controversy about how he and his staff handled a preseason incident involving racist language used by a former UCLA gymnast.

Despite the abrupt end to his 20-year UCLA coaching career, his supporters from the club, college and international levels highlighted how he encouraged and supported them at UCLA and through his club Wallers GymJam Academy, which he and his wife sold in 2021.

“For those of us fortunate enough to have trained under Chris, he empowered us, respected us, guided us with humility and compassion,” the statement read in part. “He drew greatness from within us. For some, it was greatness we never knew we had. Chris taught us that discovering one’s potential is a lifelong pursuit. His dedication to helping each of us become the best version of ourselves is something that we have taken into our lives far beyond gymnastics. It’s a gift that inspires us to lift others up in the same way.

“Chris was a coach of great character and integrity. And while there are a lot of great coaches, there is only one Chris Waller. He gave us all of his heart, and he will always have a piece of ours.”

Waller was an All-American and national champion on UCLA’s men’s gymnastics team before competing for the United States at the 1992 Olympics. He joined the UCLA staff as an assistant in 2003 and was elevated to head coach in 2019 after coach Valorie Kondos Field retired.

Despite continuing the tradition of elite recruiting, the Bruins failed to qualify for the NCAA championships as a team for the last two seasons, the first time in program history that they didn’t compete at nationals in back-to-back years.

UCLA hired former California assistant Janelle McDonald to lead the gymnastics program May 9.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.