Larry Nassar loses last appeal over gymnastics sexual assault

Larry Nassar
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DETROIT — The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday rejected a final appeal from sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting gymnasts, including Olympic medalists.

Attorneys for Nassar said he was treated unfairly in 2018 and deserved a new hearing, based on vengeful remarks by a judge who called him a “monster” who would “wither” in prison like the wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I just signed your death warrant,” Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said of Nassar’s 40-year sentence.

The state Supreme Court said Nassar’s appeal was a “close question” and that it had “concerns” over the judge’s conduct. But the court also noted that Aquilina, despite her provocative comments, stuck to the sentencing agreement worked out by lawyers in the case.

“We decline to expend additional judicial resources and further subject the victims in this case to additional trauma where the questions at hand present nothing more than an academic exercise,” the court said in a two-page order.

More than 150 victims spoke or submitted statements during an extraordinary seven-day hearing in Aquilina’s court more than four years ago.

“It’s over. … Almost six years after I filed the police report, it’s finally over,” Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, said Friday on Twitter.

Nassar pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting gymnasts and other athletes with his hands under the guise of medical treatment for hip and leg injuries. He worked at Michigan State University and at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, traveling the world with the elites of the sport.

“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment,” Aquilina told Nassar. “If it did, I have to say I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls, these young women in their childhood. I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

Nassar subsequently received another 40-year sentence in a separate case in a neighboring county.

He is currently in federal prison for child pornography crimes in a different case that grew out of the same investigation. The sentences effectively mean Nassar, 58, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The Nassar case turned Aquilina into a celebrity. She appeared at the 2018 ESPY awards in Los Angeles, where his victims were honored. The judge said she trademarked her name after it started appearing on T-shirts, including one worn by actress Natalie Portman on “Saturday Night Live.”

The scandal hasn’t faded. More than 100 women, including Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, are collectively seeking more than $1 billion from the federal government for the FBI’s failure to stop Nassar when agents became aware of allegations against him in 2015. He was arrested by Michigan State University police in 2016, more than a year later.

Michigan State, which was accused of missing chances over many years to stop Nassar, agreed to pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who were assaulted by him. USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee made a $380 million settlement.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”