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Ex-USA Gymnastics CEO refuses to answer questions on sex abuse scandal

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The former president of USA Gymnastics refused to answer questions Tuesday from a Senate subcommittee about how he handled allegations of sexual abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar, and another former executive sat next to him and asserted that he instructed her and others to keep quiet after she informed him of athletes’ claims.

Rhonda Faehn, the former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, said she first reported an allegation against Nassar to Steve Penny, her then-boss, on June 17, 2015.

Nassar was not arrested until more than a year later. He is now serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography, and hundreds of athletes have said they were abused by him, including Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles.

The revelations about Nassar’s conduct over two decades and the way it was handled by Penny and others have led Congress to call for drastic reforms of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and other sports’ governing bodies.

Faehn said Penny warned her and others not to discuss the allegations against Nassar and that she wrongly assumed he had taken the allegations to law enforcement.

“He told me not to say anything or do anything because he was going to handle everything going forward,” Faehn said in her written testimony, “and he told me he was going to report the concerns to proper authorities, which I assumed included law enforcement.”

Faehn reiterated those claims as Penny, who was forced out as president of USA Gymnastics last year, sat silently next to her. When it was his turn to speak, he didn’t say much.

Penny invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination six times before he was excused by the panel.

As he slowly limped out of the hearing room, former gymnast Amy Moran shouted “Shame!” in his direction. Moran alleges she was abused by her former coach and reported it to Penny, and she was unsatisfied with Penny’s response to the allegations, which she now sees as a precursor to how he handled the Nassar case.

Testimonies: Martha Karolyi | Scott Blackmun | Lou Anna Simon | Rhonda Faehn

Penny was subpoenaed to appear before the committee. Senators questioned him on when he found out about the abuse allegations and why he waited to inform law enforcement or Nassar’s employer, Michigan State University.

Asked why he waited to contact law enforcement about Nassar, Penny said: “I would like to answer your question. However, I have been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the Fifth Amendment. … I respectfully decline to answer your question.”

Penny has been named as a defendant in a number of lawsuits by athletes who were victimized by Nassar.

“He is repulsed by Larry Nassar’s crimes, and he feels nothing but compassion for the victims of those crimes,” Penny’s attorney, Robert Bittman, said in a statement. “Mr. Penny declined to testify before the subcommittee while the matters that attempt to wrongly shift blame for Nassar’s crimes remain open.”

Faehn broke into tears as she described the actions she took in an effort to protect Nassar’s victims. But victims who attended the hearing said they were disappointed she didn’t do more.

“You just see all these little people thinking they did their thing, but no one took the one step that should have been taken, which is go to the police, or the authorities. The one thing one person could have done is do that. No one did that,” said former gymnast Emily Stebbins, who alleges she was abused by Nassar the first time he examined her as a teenager.

“You see what Steve Penny did with the information,” Stebbins said of Faehn. “What should you have done further when you saw no action was being taken?”

Faehn also said she was fired last month immediately after she informed current USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry that she was willing to testify before the committee and that she likely would be subpoenaed if she refused.

USA Gymnastics representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the circumstances of Faehn’s firing.

Former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon also appeared Tuesday under subpoena, although she said she was willing to testify and was compelled by subpoena only because her attorney had a scheduling conflict.

“I am horrified that Nassar’s crimes happened during my tenure,” Simon said. “Had I known that Nassar was sexually abusing young women, I would have taken immediate action to prevent him from preying on additional victims.”

The subcommittee chairman, Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, and other senators pledged to continue their work toward reform of U.S. Olympic sports’ governing bodies.

“Apologies are not enough,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. “We have to honor these survivors with real action.”

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MORE: Lawmakers chock back tears, scream at Olympic sport leaders for scandals

Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after short program at Autumn Classic

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after Thursday’s short program at her season opener, the Autumn Classic International. In her first competition since moving to Toronto to train under Brian Orser, Medvedeva scored 70.89 points.

Olympic team event bronze medalist Bradie Tennell sits in second place heading into Friday’s free skate with 69.26 points. Tennell, the reigning U.S. national champion, was joined by countrywoman Starr Andrews in Ontario. Andrews scored 56.70 points and finished fifth in the short program.

France’s Mae Berenice Meite rounds out the top three with 58.23 points.

Earlier on Thursday, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres from France scored 73.81 points to build their lead over the pairs’ field. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro from Canada were second with 64.73 points, followed by the two American teams: Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (61.91) and Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (50.25), who competed internationally as new partners for the first time.

Competition at the Autumn Classic continues this weekend. Friday features the rhythm dance, men’s short program, and the pairs’ and ladies’ free skates. Saturday concludes competition with the free dance and men’s free skate. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page.

Elsewhere in the world of figure skating this weekend, Rika Kihira took the ladies’ short program at the Nepela Trophy in Bratislava. The reigning world junior champion attempted her triple Axel to open her “Clair de Lune” program but fell and was awarded -5 Grades of Execution across the board. She tallied 70.79 points and leads Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva by just 0.8 points. Russian Stanislava Konstantinova is third with 65.03 points.

Russian men lead the field after the short program in Bratislava. Mikhail Kolyada scored 96.82 points while Sergei Voronov earned 81.77 points. Japan’s Keiji Tanaka currently sits third with 77.53 points.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc have a three-point lead on the pairs’ field after the short program with 65.68 points. Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, the other Americans in the field, are third with 59.60 points in their first competition of the season.

Competition continues at the Nepela Trophy this weekend with the rhythm dance and pairs’ free skate on Friday and the ladies’ free skate, free dance, and men’s free skate on Saturday.

MORE: Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova delays season opener by one week

Despite protests, Russias anti-doping agency reinstated

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The World Anti-Doping Agency declared Russia’s scandal-ridden drug-fighting operation back in business Thursday, a decision designed to bring a close to one of sports’ most notorious doping scandals but one bitterly disputed by hundreds of athletes and described as “treachery” by the lawyer for the man who exposed the corruption.

On a 9-2 vote, the executive committee took the advice of the agency’s compliance review panel and declared RUSADA as having satisfied conditions of reinstatement that were gradually softened over the summer.

In most tangible ways, the decision doesn’t change much: RUSADA has been up and running for a while, bringing one of the world’s largest testing programs back on line with the help of officials from Britain and elsewhere. And Russia’s Olympic committee was brought back into the fold after the Pyeongchang Olympics, where athletes who could prove they were clean were able to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

But RUSADA’s reinstatement now clears the country to again bid for major international events — although soccer’s World Cup was held there this summer despite that restriction.

It also clears a major hurdle for Russia’s track team to be declared compliant by that sport’s international governing body, one of the few to take a strong, consistent stand against doping.

Perhaps most importantly, hundreds of athletes and dozens of world anti-doping leaders see it as a stinging rebuke to the ideal of fair play.

“WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history,” said Jim Walden, the attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director who exposed much of the Russian scheme.

WADA had been telegraphing the move since Sept. 14, when it released the recommendation of its compliance review committee. Olympic champion Beckie Scott resigned from that committee afterward.

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” Scott said to Canadian broadcaster CBC after the decision. “I feel this was an opportunity for WADA, and they have dealt a devastating blow to clean sport. I’m quite dismayed.”

Even in Russia, where the news was welcomed, it came with a sense that there’s still work to be done.

“These questions will always follow us,” said RUSADA CEO Yuri Ganus, whose appointment to the job was part of the housecleaning at the agency that WADA demanded. “These aren’t the kind of skeletons which can lie unnoticed in the closet. These are the skeletons which will be banging on the closet door all the time.”

The two biggest roadblocks to RUSADA’s reinstatement involved the country accepting findings from a report by investigator Richard McLaren that concluded the government had engineered the doping scandal to win medals at the Sochi Olympics. It also involved Russia agreeing to hand over a trove of data and samples that could be used to corroborate potential doping violations that stemmed from the cheating.

Over a summer’s worth of correspondence between WADA leaders and Russia’s sports minister about how to bridge the gap, a pattern emerged of WADA backing down from its initial requirements and, at one point, essentially asking Russia what it would be willing to say in a letter designed to satisfy the WADA review committee.

“We think that a small addition to the letter, if acceptable to you, could ensure that the letter is well received … and that a positive recommendation is provided,” WADA CEO Olivier Niggli wrote to sports minister Pavel Kolobkov in May in a letter obtained by BBC Sport .

In the end, Russia agreed to accept findings of an IOC-commissioned report that put less onus on the Russian government for the scheme, a move that Rodchenkov said earlier this week was done “for the pure purpose of protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi.”

Russia also agreed to hand over the samples and data by Dec. 31. If it does not, RUSADA will again be declared noncompliant.

“Without this pragmatic approach, we would continue with the impasse and the laboratory data could have remained out of our reach indefinitely,” WADA president Craig Reedie said after Thursday’s executive committee meeting in Seychelles.

Critics said reinstating RUSADA before obtaining the data only amounts to accepting another promise from a country that hasn’t kept many over the five-year course of the scandal.

Travis Tygart, the CEO for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “bewildering and inexplicable,” and urged a full revamping of WADA; Reedie also serves as a member of the IOC, which is one of the many conflicts of interest that bother critics of the agency.

“Let’s be clear: Absolutely nothing will be off the table for how we, the anti-doping community, begin the work of reforming WADA,” Tygart said.

Reedie said “WADA understands that this decision will not please everybody.”

“Clean athletes were denied places at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as other major events, and others were cheated of medals,” he said. “It is entirely understandable that they should be wary about the supposed rehabilitation of offenders.”