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Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor ordered to stand trial on sexual assault charges

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MASON, Mich. (AP) — A sports doctor who treated female gymnasts at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics was ordered to stand trial Friday after a woman described how he sexually abused her for years during her childhood.

Judge Donald Allen Jr. found there was enough evidence to warrant a trial for Dr. Larry Nassar on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Separately, dozens of women and girls — many of them gymnasts — have come forward and accused Nassar of molesting them when they went to him for treatment as far back as the 1990s. He is also facing federal child porn charges.

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WHO IS NASSAR?

Nassar, 53, received a medical degree from Michigan State in 1993 and returned to teach and become doctor for the women’s gymnastics team. More than 80 percent of his patients were gymnasts, dancers and cheerleaders, including many who didn’t go to MSU.

He also was a doctor for nearly 30 years with Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He attended team camps and meets all over the world. Nassar quit in 2015 after an internal investigation related to a female athlete’s concerns about him.

The organization went to federal authorities a month after the investigation began, not immediately as it had previously stated. The timeline was changed after a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Nassar hasn’t commented directly, but his lawyers have denied the allegations against him.

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WHAT ARE THE CRIMINAL CASES?

Nassar faces charges in two cases so far, although they’re not related to his work with athletes.

The 25-year-old woman who testified Friday said her parents were friends with Nassar and that he repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing. She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other things. She said Nassar later denied it.

“My parents chose to believe him over me,” she told the judge.

The woman talked to police last year after seeing a newspaper report of similar allegations against Nassar. Police are investigating more abuse complaints. There is no statute of limitations in Michigan for certain sex crimes committed after 2001.

In federal court, Nassar is charged with possessing thousands of images of child pornography and trying to destroy possible evidence.

“Either you’ve got it or you don’t. It’s very difficult to fight and the penalties are severe,” former federal prosecutor John Smietanka said of child porn charges.

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WHAT IS HAPPENING AT MICHIGAN STATE?

Nassar, who had a campus clinic, was fired in September. Women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages suddenly quit Wednesday, a day after she was suspended for defending Nassar during a team meeting months ago.

In lawsuits against the doctor, at least two women said Klages downplayed their complaints about him when they were part of a gymnastics youth group at MSU in the late 1990s. An attorney for the coach said Klages would never put athletes in “harm’s way.”

MSU said it had received only two formal complaints about Nassar, including one in 2014; no charges were filed then. A second complaint last summer led to a broader police investigation, which is ongoing. President Lou Anna Simon recently called Nassar’s behavior “criminal and repugnant.”

“If anybody thinks this stops at the gymnastics coach, they’re smoking some pretty good dope,” said John Manly, an attorney for more than 40 women or girls who are suing Nassar or are planning to do so. “Sexual abuse of this magnitude doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

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WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE LAWSUITS?

More females who say they’re victims have been added to lawsuits each week. The largest case is in federal court in western Michigan, and it names Nassar, MSU and USA Gymnastics as defendants.

USA Gymnastics won’t comment on specific allegations, but it says it’s “appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner.” The lawsuits accuse MSU of failing to do more to prevent assaults.

The school also won’t address specific allegations. There is an ongoing internal review of all aspects of Nassar’s work.

Ragan Smith delivers in first U.S. championship title win

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ragan Smith embraced the role of heavy favorite coming into the U.S. gymnastics championships.

Thrust into the spotlight for the first time in her career, the 17-year-old hardly appeared intimidated by the stage. Smith pulled away from the field to claim her first national title Sunday, posting a score of 115.250, more than three points clear of Jordan Chiles in second place and Riley McCusker in third.

Smith opened up a 1.3-point lead over McCusker in the opening round Friday but admitted afterward she wasn’t particularly impressed by her own performance. She was considerably sharper less than 48 hours later, her 57.850 total in the finals was the best in the 16-woman all-around field by nearly two points.

Smith is one of the few holdovers from the 2016 Olympic cycle, serving as an alternate for the “Final Five” team that won half of the available medals in Rio de Janeiro last fall. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez are taking breaks or have moved on, leaving Smith as the standard bearer for new national team coordinator Valeri Liukin.

The program appears to be in solid hands. Smith ditched “The Addams Family” themed floor routine she used last year for something a little more mature. It’s not the only part of her gymnastics that has grown up. Smith finished first on floor and beam and tied for third on bars.

Smith will be in the mix for the all-around title at the world championships in Montreal, where she’ll have a chance to extend the U.S.’s dominance. An American woman has won the world or Olympic title each of the last six years. Barring injury, Smith should be right there.

Liukin said he wasn’t alarmed following an uneven performance by the field in preliminaries, calling it a positive step for a group lacking in experience. The gymnastics were markedly improved in the finals.

Chiles slipped by McCusker into second thanks to a fabulous save on beam in which she turned a near disaster into something decidedly artful.

Chiles was in the middle of “wolf turn” (basically spinning on one foot while in a crouch on a 4-inch wide piece of wood) when she nearly fell over. Instead she rose to her feet, kept rotating, and went right into the next part of her routine as if it was planned all along.

Chiles’ steadiness gives Liukin another option as he tries to put together the rest of the four-woman team that will join Smith in Montreal. McCusker, only recently recovered from foot and wrist injuries, tried to keep the heat on Smith but stepped out of bounds following the last tumbling pass on her floor routine. McCusker finished first on bars — her legs practically magnetized together as she went from bar to bar — to win the event with ease.

Ashton Locklear, like Smith an alternate last summer, wound up second on bars with a watered down routine as he makes her way back from her own injury issues and should have time to install upgrades before Montreal.

Whoever heads to Canada in October will go with the usual expectations for what has become the sport’s most dominant program.

MORE: Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles has competed in the six previous U.S. National Championships, winning the last four, but in Anaheim this year, she’s watching from the sidelines. Biles won four gold medals (team, all-around, vault and floor) and one bronze (on beam) last summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

This week she revealed she has returned to the gym to prepare for a yet to be determined event, in her return to competition.

When asked how she’s been doing in the gym by NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce, Biles responded with her signature smile accompanied by an endearingly bashful eye roll, “the beginning is…OK.”

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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