LANSING, Mich. — Since 2000, USA Gymnastics has used a 40-acre ranch outside Huntsville, Texas, owned by gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi for monthly training sessions and various team camps. In 2001, it officially became known as “USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center at Karolyi Ranch.”
As USA Gymnastics developed into a global juggernaut, dominating Olympic competition, the ranch was credited for helping churn out some of the greatest gymnasts of all time.
It also proved to became a house of horrors due to Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor who sexually assaulted numerous national team gymnasts at the ranch through the years. What was once seen as an idyllic location for gymnastics is now a horror scene of gut-wrenching crimes.
USA Gymnastics made the obvious first step Thursday and terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch and canceled an upcoming camp.
“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December,” said new USAG CEO Kerry Perry, who took the job after CEO Steve Penny resigned due to the scandal. “Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.”
Nassar, 54, is already serving time for child pornography and is awaiting sentencing in Ingham County, Michigan, for sexually assaulting about 140 females. He faces up to 125 additional years in state prison for his crimes.
Bela Karolyi retired as national team coordinator in 2000. His wife, Marta, succeeded him and retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics. Both deny any wrongdoing in Nassar’s crimes. They still own the ranch and had hoped it would continue to be used by USA Gymnastics.
A sentencing hearing for Nassar is being held this week in Lansing, Michigan. Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina has allowed any and all of Nassar’s victims to provide victim impact statements. The hearing is in its third day and may stretch into next week. At least 105 women are planning on addressing Nassar and the court.
Repeatedly, former elite national gymnasts, including Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney, have vividly described how Nassar raped them at the Karolyi Ranch. American gymnastics legends such as Simone Biles, Gabby Douglass and Ali Raisman have all said they were abused by Nassar.
Nassar was particularly adept at using the ranch’s isolation and the crushing pressure on the young athletes during those camps to gain trust. Women say he provided encouraging words after a day of demanding coaching, candy that was otherwise banned and of course one-on-one treatments for injuries that were actually assaults.
“It seemed whenever and wherever this man could find the chance, I was ‘treated,’ ” Maroney, who won gold and silver at the 2012 Olympics, said.
USA Gymnastics national team camps did not allow parents to accompany their children, which meant teenage girls were there without parental supervision.
“It’s hard for an outsider to understand the world of elite gymnastics and understand how a man like Larry could gain the trust of so many young girls and sexually abuse them for so many years,” former national team gymnast Jeanette Antolin said. “For a young girl away from her home, being worked into exhaustion by screaming coaches, a kindly doctor offering relief from pain and a little sympathy was easy to like.”
With the Karolyi Ranch now symbolic of some of Nassar’s worst crimes against some of America’s most famous gymnasts, this is a necessary, if just the first, step in USA Gymnastics reforming its policies to prevent future tragedies.
It does nothing to answer or potentially excuse USA Gymnastics’ larger role in the crimes of Larry Nassar.
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