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Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor to stand trial on sex assault charges

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MASON, Mich. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered a longtime doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting six young gymnasts who said he molested them while they were seeking treatment for various injuries.

Judge Donald Allen Jr. made his decision after hearing testimony from the alleged victims over two days and watching a campus police interview of Dr. Larry Nassar.

It is one of four Michigan criminal cases against Nassar following reports last year in the Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving the doctor and coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse, sometimes when their parents were in the exam room at Michigan State.

“He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Poviliatis told the judge. “Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?”

Nassar didn’t testify nor did his lawyers offer an argument against sending the case to trial. The legal threshold in Michigan is probable cause, a low standard at the initial stages of a criminal case.

The final evidence Friday was a video of Nassar’s 40-minute interview last August with a Michigan State police detective, who was investigating a complaint from a former gymnast, now in her 30s. He was not under arrest and spoke voluntarily.

Nassar denied any inappropriate contact and said he got no sexual pleasure from treating gymnasts. He said if he had an erection, as a gymnast claimed, “that’s rather embarrassing.”

The camera was above Nassar’s head. He repeatedly moved his arms and hands as he explained his techniques, using phrases such as “lift and shift” and “tissue tension” to describe treatments for back and hip injuries. He sighed, scratched his forehead and appeared frustrated with the allegations against him.

“I’m trying my best to help the patient. I’m trying to get real-time feedback. I don’t want to hurt someone,” Nassar told Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford.

The judge watched the video and later noted that Nassar had put his fingers in a position that matched the testimony of one of the alleged victims, who said the doctor had penetrated her with his hands in 2000.

“Every victim who testified was unambiguous” about being molested, Poviliatis said. “They were clear and consistent and precise.”

Outside of the criminal cases, Nassar and Michigan State are being sued by dozens of women and girls. Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics also is a defendant in some of the lawsuits.

Nassar will appear in court in Eaton County next Friday on assault charges involving two more gymnasts. He’s separately charged in federal court in Grand Rapids with possessing child pornography.

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House OKs bill requiring sports groups to report sex abuse

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Angered by allegations that some members of USA Gymnastics were sexually abused, the House overwhelmingly backed legislation on Thursday that requires amateur sports groups recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee to report claims of sexual abuse to police.

The vote was 415-3, with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., saying the Olympic community clearly had failed to protect its athletes and must do better.

The legislation stems from allegations that a sports doctor for USA Gymnastics sexually assaulted gymnasts he treated for hip and back injuries. The doctor, Larry Nassar, has denied wrongdoing. He is currently the defendant in four separate criminal cases. In one of the cases, a Michigan judge is deciding whether there’s enough evidence to send the former Michigan State University doctor to trial on allegations he sexually assaulted seven gymnasts at a campus clinic or at his home basement.

Three former elite U.S. gymnasts, including 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, have also accused Nassar of touching them inappropriately while he disguised the abuse as treatment. In all, more than 100 women have alleged they were abused by Nassar over more than two decades.

“I understand how challenging it is to share painful stories of sexual abuse, and I am proud of the brave gymnasts who have shared their stories — stories that should never have happened, and stories that went inexcusably unanswered,” Brooks said. “Their stories demand our attention and action.”

The bill also relaxes the statute of limitations for those seeking civil damages. Victims alleging they were abused will have 10 years from the time they reach adulthood to file a civil lawsuit.

The bill also clarifies that once a victim has established that harm occurred, the court will presume damages of $150,000.

A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has cleared a Senate panel. Feinstein said her legislation would make it safe and easy for victims to report abuse and that organizations such as USA Gymnastics would have to ensure coaches and personnel are trained in sexual abuse prevention.

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

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.