Former gymnast's lawsuit alleges abuse at Karolyi ranch

A former gymnast and member of the U.S.A Olympic team is blaming famed trainers, Bela and Marta Karolyi, for turning a blind eye to the alleged sexual abuse by a team doctor.

Longtime gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi are named in a lawsuit filed Thursday by a former member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.

The unnamed woman’s lawsuit accuses longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexually assaulting her during medical exams.

She said Nassar “systematically sexually groomed” her and “repeatedly sexually abused, harassed and molested” her over a period of several years. It allegedly happened at the Karolyi Ranch near Huntsville, where the national teams have trained since 2001.  

The lawsuit alleges Nassar also sexually abused other members of the national teams and members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team over a 30-year period.

The plaintiff, now 24, was on the U.S. Women’s National Team from 2006 through 2011. She made the World Team in 2010 and was a nationally-ranked NCAA champion gymnast.

An unnamed member of the 2000 Olympics team made similar claims against Nassar in a lawsuit filed in September.

The lawsuit filed Thursday claims the Karolyis failed to protect the plaintiff and other young gymnasts from Nassar. It also claims Bela and Marta physically and emotionally abused the gymnasts they trained.

"What we're really saying is the ranch was a toxic environment for these kids and a perfect environment for a pedophile to flourish," John Manly, the attorney for both of the former U.S. gymnasts who have sued Nassar, told ESPN.  "Bela and Marta Karolyi kept Nassar on because he was willing to keep their secrets, and when you have secrets in an environment with children, that's where pedophiles flourish.”

Nassar joined USA Gymnastics as a trainer in 1986 and was promoted to national team physician for the women’s team in 1996.

He traveled to several international competitions with the team, including the Olympics in 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012.


He is no longer with USA Gymnastics and was recently suspended from Michigan State University after a former gymnast told police he sexually abused her when she was 15.

No criminal charges have been filed against Nassar. ESPN was unable to reach him for comment.

The Karolyis are legends in the gymnastics world who defected from Romania in 1981.

Bela coached Mary Lou Retton when she won the all-around gold medal in Los Angeles in 1984. He went on to coach eight more Olympic champions and 15 world champions.

The gymnasts who trained at the Karolyi Ranch include Kerri Strug, Dominique Moceanu, Phoebe Mills, Kim Zmeskal and Kristie Phillips.

Some of those gymnasts, including Moceanu, and Phillips, later complained publicly about the Karolyis’ controversial training methods.

When asked about the accusations in a 2008 interview, Karolyi said: “These people are really trash.”

Other former Karolyi gymnasts, like Retton and Nadia Comaneci, have defended his strict training methods.  

Marta took over coaching duties when Bela retired and coached the U.S. Olympics team that won nine medals in Rio, including a team gold.

She retired after the Olympics and the Karolyis sold their ranch to USA Gymnastics.

ESPN said it called the Karolyis about the lawsuit Thursday, but Marta said they aren’t commenting.


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