NEW YORK (Reuters) – The coaching couple who helped turn the U.S. women’s gymnastics team into a global powerhouse said in a TV interview aired on Friday that they knew nothing about the alleged sexual assaults by team doctor Larry Nassar at their training camp.
Nassar is serving a life sentence after nearly 200 victims testified that he sexually abused them over decades, a scandal that shook the gymnastics world and prompted a series of civil investigations into the sport and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Martha and Bela Karolyi, under whose coaching U.S. gymnasts have consistently medaled since the 1990s, told NBC they were shocked by the revelations that Nassar abused young women at the couple’s Huntsville, Texas, facility, which had been the Olympic training site for the USA Gymnastics National Team.
“The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding,” Bela Karolyi said in the NBC interview, a portion of which was shown Friday on the “Today” program.
Martha Karolyi said she had no way of knowing Nassar had been sexually abusing athletes.
“I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this — and the parent couldn’t see,” she said. “How could I see?”
She expressed sympathy for the women, including some gold medalists who were teenagers at the time, who said Nassar abused them under the guise of medical treatment.
“Any child who was violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad,” she said.
The Karolyis opened their complex in the mid 1980s and it is credited with playing a vital role in making the U.S. women’s team a dominant force in global competitions.
The entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body in the United States, resigned as a result of the revelations, as did the president and athletic director at Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by David Gregorio)