AP

Charges against ex-USA Gymnastics doctor ‘tip of the iceberg,’ attorney general says

Leave a comment

MASON, Mich. (AP) — A former USA Gymnastics team doctor pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in his home with a girl under 13, charges that Michigan’s attorney general said may be the “tip of the iceberg” as authorities investigate roughly 50 complaints.

Larry Nassar, who was arrested Monday while running an errand at a Lansing-area tire store, was arraigned by video from jail. He was released after 10 percent of a $1 million bond was paid, more than two months after two gymnasts — including a member of the 2000 U.S. women’s Olympic team — accused him of sexual abuse during medical treatments.

The alleged assaults against the girl occurred between 1998 and 2005, from the age of 6 until she was 12. She was not a gymnast, patient or family member, said Attorney General Bill Schuette.

He said Nassar, a former associate professor of osteopathic medicine at Michigan State University who lives in Holt in suburban Lansing, committed “predatory, menacing” acts and “stole this young lady’s childhood.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Schuette said during a news conference Tuesday.

University police chief James Dunlap said his department has received roughly 50 complaints.

“We’re dealing with decades of effort to go back and identify witnesses and to compile those for submission to the attorney general’s office,” he said.

Ingham County 55th District Court Magistrate Mark Blumer ordered Nassar to wear an electronic tether and to surrender his passport. He also was prohibited from being present with anyone under 18, including his children, unless another adult is there.

A preliminary exam was scheduled for Dec. 15.

Nassar, who could face life imprisonment if he is convicted, has denied wrongdoing.

Shannon Smith, one of his lawyers, said his wife — who was in the courtroom — and “hundreds of people support him 100 percent. We have received countless emails and communications from other doctors, physicians, physical therapists, ex-patients, ex-coworkers supporting him.”

Assistant state attorney general Angela Povilaitis had asked that bond be denied or, in the alternate, that a very high amount be imposed.

“She has come forward bravely to report this and to cooperate and prosecute this case,” she said.

Nassar was fired in September by Michigan State. In October, a former gymnast who was on the national team from 2006 to 2011 filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles, alleging Nassar repeatedly sexually abused her and renowned husband-and-wife coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi turned a blind eye to molestations.

Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics previously said that it cut ties with Nassar after learning of athlete concerns about him in the summer of 2015.

The attorney general, who is investigating at the request of the campus police, said his department is in the best position to prosecute instead of the local prosecutor because it is believed that potential crimes crossed into multiple jurisdictions in Michigan and possibly across state lines. He said his office is working with the FBI and federal prosecutors in Michigan.

With USOC in turmoil, athletes testify about sex-abuse cases

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The question sex-abuse victim Craig Maurizi would like to ask U.S. Olympic leaders is simple and searing: “How can you sleep at night?”

Every bit as perplexing: How to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

The figure skater was one of four Olympic-sports athletes who testified to a Senate subcommittee Wednesday about abuse they suffered while training and competing under the purview of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the national sports organizations that controlled their Olympic dreams.

Their testimony provided yet another reminder of the way leaders at the USOC, US Figure Skating, USA Gymnastics and other federations failed to protect them over a span of decades.

At a USOC board meeting held later in the day, acting CEO Susanne Lyons outlined a six-part “Athlete Action Safety Plan” the federation is developing as a response to the abuse cases.

But the abuse victims, including Olympic gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher and speed skater Bridie Farrell, cast doubt on the USOC’s motivation to solve this problem.

Wieber, who won a gold medal in 2012, is among the roughly 200 athletes who have detailed abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar, who is in prison for molesting athletes on the U.S. gymnastics team and at Michigan State.

“After many people came forward and said Larry Nassar had abused them, I didn’t get a phone call from anyone at the USOC asking anything until after I gave a victim-impact statement,” Wieber said, recalling the emotional week in a Michigan courtroom that spotlighted the depth of the abuse scandal. “If you’re not currently a competing athlete, you’re not really relevant. They don’t really care anymore.”

The USOC is in search of a new CEO — someone to replace Scott Blackmun, who resigned with health problems in February.

When Blackmun resigned, the USOC announced a number of initiatives that mirrored the six-part plan Lyons described Wednesday.

It includes more funding for abuse victims and a review of the governance structure of the USOC and the 47 national governing bodies, whose sports make up the Olympics.

The USOC has also doubled its funding — to $3.1 million a year — for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened last year.

Two months ago, the center responded to Maurizi’s call about a four-decade-old abuse case that US Figure Skating swept under the rug when he first reported it 20 years ago.

“When I think back to my particular situation, there’s just no way that dozens, if not hundreds, of people around the ice rink didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Five-hour meetings in the office with a 15-year-old boy? That’s ridiculous. So, my question would be: How do you live with yourself? … How can you sleep at night?”

Leaders at the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State could be forced to answer those questions May 22, which is the date the Senate subcommittee has scheduled its next hearing on the sex-abuse cases.

It’s doubtful the USOC will have a new CEO by then, though it’s becoming clear it needs a well-articulated path forward through a devastating 12 months for Olympic athletes and the organizations that are supposed to protect them.

Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track and Field, said commercial partners are hesitant to strike deals under the current climate.

“It’s an indication to me that it’s impacting the commercial viability of the business, and it’s a reflection of the societal challenges we face,” he said.

He said he was not opposed to a rethinking of the relationship between the USOC and NGBs, which have long valued their independence as the training grounds for Olympic athletes. The USOC has often positioned itself as an umbrella organization — a mere bystander when it comes to day-to-day operation of the sports.

“It’s not always clear what role we should be playing,” said Lyons, who attended the hearings in Washington. “Sometimes, athletes fall between the cracks a bit when they have issues with NGBs.”

Farrell served up the only concrete proposal in the more than two hours of testimony to the Senate subcommittee.

She would like to see more athletes — closer to 50 percent — placed on NGB boards. She’d also like to see retired athletes given a chance to serve.

The USOC appears amenable to that suggestion; one of its reforms is to see that athletes have a louder voice in decisions that impact them.

When asked what she would say to the leaders, Farrell said she would make one simple request:

“Take our names out, take our pictures out, and put their kids’ names and pictures in there, and see if it makes a difference,” she said. “Let them know there are thousands of people looking at them, as they should be, for missing the opportunity.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: McKayla Maroney speaks publicly for first time since Nassar case

U.S. Ski & Snowboard names new Alpine director

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jesse Hunt is returning to U.S. Ski & Snowboard as the Alpine team director, replacing Patrick Riml, who left the post last month after seven years in the position.

Hunt first joined U.S. Ski & Snowboard as a coach in 1993 and became Alpine director after the 2002 Olympics, leaving the post in 2009 for Park City Ski & Snowboard in Utah. He served as program director and general manager in Park City over the last nine years.

“We have an exciting challenge ahead of us to give our Alpine ski racers the chance to be best in the world, but that is precisely the challenge that motivates me the most, helping athletes achieve everything that they are capable of,” Hunt said in a press release. “We have a strong mix of highly experienced athletes and those coming up through the ranks in both the men’s and women’s teams, in speed and tech, and the chance to help all of them achieve greatness is one I could not turn down.”

No reason was given when Riml stepped down last month.

Under Riml, the U.S. Alpine skiing team earned eight medals between the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, led by Lindsey VonnMikaela ShiffrinJulia MancusoBode Miller and Ted Ligety.

In PyeongChang, the U.S. earned zero men’s Alpine medals at the Olympics for the first time since 1998. Riml called the Olympic men’s performance “disappointing” and said “we definitely have to rebuild” before the 2022 Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. had one men’s World Cup podium finish this past season and two the season before, its least successful stretch since 1999-00.

Mancuso retired before PyeongChang, and Vonn is expected to retire after next season, large boots to fill on the women’s speed side.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard has a goal of becoming the world’s best team by 2026 through “Project 26,” a change in national team selection and development programming with a focus on the 2022 and 2026 Olympics.

“Some of our Alpine team’s greatest successes have been propelled by the work that Jesse accomplished during his first tenure with us,” U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief of Sport Luke Bodensteiner said in the press release. “He’s the right person to lead our team right now, as we continue to maximize the capability of our elite team, while also activating the roadmap in our development efforts to build our team for the future.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Lindsey Vonn looks ahead to likely last season