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USA Gymnastics cancels Karolyi ranch purchase

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USA Gymnastics canceled its agreement to purchase Bela and Martha Karolyi‘s training facility in Texas.

“The decision was made for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to unexpected financial expenditures associated with the purchase,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement Tuesday.

USA Gymnastics, which holds women’s national team camps at the Karolyi ranch, is continuing under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps.

USA Gymnastics announced last July that it reached an agreement to purchase 36.2 acres of the 2,000-acre Karolyi ranch in Huntsville, Texas, including three training gyms, housing for up to 300 athletes and coaches as well as a dance studio, dining hall, medical and rehab facilities and recreational areas.

In the time between USA Gymnastics announced the ranch purchase and its cancellation Tuesday, former gymnasts claimed they were sexually abused at the ranch years ago by former team doctor Larry Nassar. One lawsuit named the Karolyis, who live at the ranch, alleging they turned a blind eye to molestations.

Nassar is accused of sexually assaulting athletes while working at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. He pleaded not guilty.

The Karolyis defected from Romania to the U.S. in 1981. The ranch, established an hour north of Houston in 1983, played a vital part in U.S. gymnastics’ rise from also-ran to dominant force. Martha Karolyi stepped down as national team coordinator after the Rio Olympics.

When Martha Karolyi was elevated to national team coordinator in 2001, she installed a centralized system that required national team members to make regular visits to the ranch for training and to foster a team environment that can be difficult to cultivate in an individual sport.

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MORE: U.S. gymnasts give emotional testimony about sexual abuse

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.S. gymnasts give emotional testimony about sexual abuse

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Retired star gymnasts testified before Congress on Tuesday that they were sexually abused by USA Gymnastics officials.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, and three-time national champion rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard recounted their experiences before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“USA Gymnastics failed its most basic responsibility to protect the athletes under its care,” Dantzscher said through tears.

Dominique Moceanu, a 1996 gold medalist, described a “culture of fear, intimidation and humiliation, established by Bela and Martha Karolyi,” the legendary coaches who are named in a civil lawsuit for physical abuse.

U.S. Olympic Committee official Rick Adams and Stafford County (Va.) Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen also testified. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman, criticized USA Gymnastics for declining to testify.

The hearing concerns a bill that could reshape sex-abuse reporting guidelines in Olympic sports. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is co-sponsoring a bill that calls on organizations overseeing Olympic sports to immediately report sex-abuse allegations to law enforcement or child-welfare authorities.

The bill and proposed changes to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act come in the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal that led to the resignation of USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny.

Dantzscher and Howard told the committee of their abuses by Dr. Larry Nassar, who is in prison in Michigan and faces charges in the state and federal systems.

“They failed to take action against coaches, trainers and other adults who abused children,” Dantzscher said. “And they allowed Dr. Nassar to abuse young women and girls for more than 20 years.”

Howard said, “It has become glaringly obvious that USA Gymnastics has not done nearly enough to protect athletes from any form of abuse.”

Moceanu, now an advocate, spoke about her emotional and verbal abuse during her time with USA Gymnastics. She said there is an “urgent need” to change the culture of the organization.

Feinstein, who has been critical of USA Gymnastics’ handling of the sex-abuse scandal, said she met two months ago with former gymnasts who were abused as teenagers and carried the trauma with them as adults. Dantzscher and Howard said they didn’t realize until last year that Nassar had abused them.

As part of the proposed legislation, governing bodies under the USOC umbrella would be required to report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement and train employees on how to handle situations. The statute of limitations for victims to sue their abusers would also be extended.

“Young athletes should not have to fear victimization from coaches doctors and other officials,” Feinstein said at a news conference after the hearing.

Retired gymnast Jeanette Antolin also said at the news conference she was sexually abused by her first coach and praised the proposed legislation, saying “for so long we felt like we had no voice.”

Mattie Larson, a 2010 World Championships team member, also attended the news conference but did not speak.

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USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny resigns amid scandal

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Steve Penny resigned as president of USA Gymnastics on Thursday following intensified pressure on the organization for its handling of sex abuse cases.

The resignation came a week after the United States Olympic Committee’s board recommended to USA Gymnastics chairman Paul Parilla that Penny should step down. Penny offered his resignation during a previously scheduled board meeting on Thursday.

“My decision to step aside as CEO is solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time,” Penny said in a statement.

Penny joined USA Gymnastics in 1999 and was named the organization’s president in 2005, overseeing one of the greatest runs in Olympic history. Led by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, the women’s program has become a dominant force, producing each of the last four Olympic all-around champions and team golds in 2012 and 2016.

The success turned gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson into stars and made USA Gymnastics a magnet for big-time corporate sponsors who wanted to be aligned with its healthy, winning image.

That image took a serious hit in recent months following an investigation by the Indianapolis Star that portrayed USA Gymnastics as slow to act when it came to addressing allegations of sexual abuse by a team doctor and coaches at member gyms across the country.

“The Board believes this change in leadership will help USA Gymnastics face its current challenges and implement solutions to move the organization forward in promoting a safe environment for its athletes at all levels,” Parilla said in a statement.

Last fall, Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the 2000 Olympic team, filed a civil lawsuit in California against USA Gymnastics and former team doctor Larry Nassar.

The lawsuit claims Nassar — who worked for the organization on a volunteer basis for nearly 30 years before being dismissed in the summer of 2015 — sexually groped and fondled the gymnasts as teenagers. Subsequent lawsuits have followed, including some that name Penny, Karolyi and her husband Bela as co-defendants because they “had knowledge of inappropriate conduct and molestations committed by (Nassar) before and during his employment, yet chose to allow him to remain unsupervised where he sexually abused plaintiff.”

Martha Karolyi retired last August and sold the training gyms at the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston to USA Gymnastics.

Nassar was fired by USA Gymnastics after Penny heard of an athlete’s concerns about Nassar’s conduct and went to federal authorities. The organization initially claimed it notified the authorities immediately but amended its timeline last month, indicating it conducted its own investigation during a five-week span before reporting Nassar to the FBI. Nassar is currently in prison in Michigan, where he worked for decades at Michigan State University before being let go last fall. He faces charges in both the state and federal system.

USA Gymnastics hired a former federal prosecutor last fall to conduct an extensive review of the organization’s policies in regards to potential sexual misconduct. The report by Deborah J. Daniels is expected sometime in the spring or early summer.

The gregarious Penny — whose booming voice and penchant for wearing eye-catching shoes during big events made him stand out in a sea of gymnasts — has denied any wrongdoing and the USA Gymnastics board of directors had remained supportive throughout the firestorm.

That didn’t stop the USOC from sending recommendations to USA Gymnastics Thursday. While the USOC does not have official authority to remove heads of national governing bodies, it can apply pressure by threatening to without funding. The USOC gives USA Gymnastics a cash grant of nearly $2 million annually.

Pressure also has been building within the gymnastics community. International Gymnastics Camp, a summer camp located in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, announced last week it was pulling its sponsorship of the organization until “USA Gymnastics must become the leading governing body in child safety considerations including National Team programs and club programs alike,” camp director Brent Klaus wrote in an open letter on the camp’s web site.

Penny’s departure is not enough for some of the women who have filed suit against Nassar and the organization. Attorney John Manly, who is representing more than 70 women currently suing Nassar and USA Gymnastics, issued a letter to USOC chairman Larry Probst this weekend asking the USOC to de-certify USA Gymnastics.

The letter pointed to the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, a federal law that guarantees athletes the right to compete without discrimination. The letter pointed to misconduct by coaches as proof that USA Gymnastics “maternally inhibits these women’s ability to participate in their sport.”

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