Christina "Christy" Renee Henrich (July 18, 1972 – July 26, 1994) was a world-class American artistic gymnast whose death from anorexia nervosa at 22 led to major reforms in the way women's gymnastics is covered on television and in the news media.
Training with Al Fong at the Great American Gymnastics Express (GAGE) club in Blue Springs, Missouri, Henrich made the U.S. national gymnastics team in 1986 after placing fifth all-around in the junior division at the U.S. National Championships. She continued to climb through the elite ranks over the next four years, placing ninth at the 1988 Olympic Trials and winning the silver medal in the all-around at the 1989 U.S. National Championships. She represented the United States at the 1989 World Championships in Stuttgart, placing fourth with the American team and just missing a medal in the uneven bars final. One of Henrich's original balance beam leaps was named after her in the Code of Points; as of 2007 the skill is still included in the Code and carries a 'C' difficulty rating.
Though Henrich was succeeding in gymnastics, a judge at an international meet in 1989 told her bluntly that she was fat and needed to lose weight. The perception of Henrich's weight being too high was fueled further by the culture of elite gymnastics, which was dominated by "pixies"—small, underweight, prepubescent girls. Henrich's own coach, Al Fong—coach of the late Julissa Gomez, who also reportedly felt pushed into doing something unsafe for her health when she kept attempting the difficult-to-master Yurchenko vault until she was rendered quadriplegic in a vaulting accident—had also allegedly made insulting remarks about her size and body type. Desperate to move up the ranks in the highly competitive world of Olympic-level gymnastics, Henrich took the criticisms to heart; her drive to lose a few pounds progressed to unhealthy eating habits and, eventually, became full-blown anorexia nervosa.
At first, neither her family nor her coaches were aware of the situation. Eventually, Henrich's battle with anorexia took such a toll on her health that she was no longer strong enough to compete, and she was asked to leave GAGE. Her weight dropped to about 47 pounds before her family intervened and compelled her to enter hospital treatment for her eating disorder. In spite of numerous treatments and periods of recovery, Henrich died of multiple organ failure just eight days after her 22nd birthday.
Henrich's death brought the problem of eating disorders in women's gymnastics into the spotlight. Prominent gymnasts such as Kathy Johnson and Cathy Rigby admitted their bouts with anorexia and bulimia; and other U.S. National Team gymnasts stepped forward and went public about their own eating disorders.
The focus on gymnast wellness was addressed with several programs on both the national and international levels, such as educational videos, nutrition counseling and classes, to varying degrees of success.
Additionally, American television channels broadcasting gymnastics competitions, such as NBC-TV and ABC-TV, stopped commenting about or listing gymnasts' weights in captions in the mid-1990s. Television stations from other nations have adopted similar policies.
|1986||Junior National Championships||6|
|U.S. Olympic Festival||15|
|Arthur Gander Memorial||3rd|
|U.S. Olympic Trials||9|
|Stuttgart World Championships||4||4|