A few years after competing in synchronized swimming at the 2012 London Olympics, Szofi Kiss of Hungary began working with a coach from Russia, whom she would identify only by her first name as Natalia. The coach, Kiss said, separated some members of her training group into what she called the “Chubby Team,” sometimes withheld dinner from them and told them, “You disgust me,” and “I’m nauseous looking at you,” when the swimmers exited the pool after workouts.
Kiss, now 26, described the coach’s tactics as “emotional terrorizing.”
Natalia Tarasova, the head national team coach during that period and the only coach named Natalia listed in the Hungarian artistic swimming federation’s meeting minutes for those years, did not respond to requests for comment. But elite synchronized swimmers — who are mostly women, with few men at the elite level — routinely endure bullying, harassment and psychological abuse from male and female coaches, more than 100 current and former athletes from more than a dozen countries have said in recent interviews with The New York Times and other news organizations, and in social media postings and blogs.
With the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics approaching in July, artistic swimming, as the sport is now known, finds itself awash in scandal that burst into public view recently in Canada and in a handful of other countries.
Swimmers interviewed described an unhealthy culture of thinness and disordered eating in an event that…