Bela and Martha Karolyi, who built USA Gymnastics into an international powerhouse over the last two decades, say they didn't know that dozens of gymnasts who trained in their gyms had suffered sexual abuse.
Athletes critical of USOC, governing bodies' failure to protect from sexual abuse.
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports' Rachel Axon discusses Senate subcommittee hearing where former athletes criticized the national governing bodies for their sport as well as the USOC and others for failing to prevent and stop sexual abuse.
Olympic champions Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber are among the women who said Nassar abused them under the guise of medical treatment.
More than 260 athletes accused Larry Nassar, longtime team doctor for USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State, of abusing them, with more than 150 giving victim impact statements in two sentencing hearings in Michigan.
"That’s awful, but I would say even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who is violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad," Martha Karolyi, who was USA Gymnastics women's national team coordinator, said in an interview with NBC that was released by Today on Friday.
When asked how they could not have known about the abuse, some of which was alleged to have taken place at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, Martha said, “I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this. And the parent couldn't see. How I could see?”
On Wednesday Olympic gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher were among former athletes who testified before a Senate subcommittee and sharply criticized USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for failing to prevent sexual abuse.
Larry acted like our friend. He always had a sympathetic ear for complaints about our coaches,” she said. “He would bring us food, candy and coffee at the Olympics when we were hungry. I didn’t know that these were all grooming techniques that he used to manipulate and brainwash me into trusting him.”
In her testimony, Wieber said the training environment at the Karolyi ranch led the gymnasts to be “motivated by fear,” describing pressure to perform to the coaches’ standards and to stay thin.
Nassar, 54, is serving a 60-year federal sentence for child pornography charges. He was convicted of 10 counts of sexual assault in Michigan and faces a minimum of 40 years in prison after his federal sentence is over.
The Indianapolis Star, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, first made public the allegations against Nassar in August 2016 after being contacted by Rachael Denhollander, who said she’d been abused by Nassar.
USA Gymnastics had previously planned to purchase the ranch from the Karolyis and maintain it as their national training center. But after Biles, a five-time Olympic medalist in Rio, questioned returning to the site where so many gymnasts were abused, USA Gymnastics said in January that it would no longer hold training camps there.
Bela Karolyi served as the national team coordinator for the program’s first year before Martha took over in 2001. Martha Karolyi retired after the Rio Olympics. The U.S. team won 97 world championship or Olympic medals, including winning a second consecutive team Olympic gold in Rio, during her tenure.
We know Larry is a monster, and learning from everything that has come out, I should never have met him," Maroney said at The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children charity luncheon on Tuesday. "USA Gymnastics, MSU and the USOC continued to look away (and) to protect their reputations. All they cared about is money and medals. It didn’t seem they cared about anything else."
In public comments and in lawsuits, gymnasts who said they were abused by Nassar said the Karolyis, USA Gymnastics and the USOC prioritized that success over their safety.
Rachel Axon | USA TODAY Sports
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