New York (AFP) – Former US Olympic gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi, whose training ranch became the center of a sex abuse scandal, told NBC News they never knew ex-team doctor Larry Nassar was preying upon the girls they were training.
In an interview with the US Olympic telecasting network, the Romanian-born US couple said there was no way they could have known Nassar was molesting gymnasts.
“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,” Marta Karolyi said. “How could I see?”
Bela Karolyi said the revelations of abuse that sent Nassar to prison for decades were a shock.
“The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding — Boom,” he said.
The Karolyis, both 75, spoke with NBC for a “Dateline NBC” special to be broadcast Sunday.
Nassar, 54, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in January. He has been accused of abusing more than 260 female athletes, including several US Olympic stars, over a period spanning two decades, much of the abuse taking place under the guise of medical treatment at the 2,000-acre Karolyi ranch estate in a remote area of Texas.
The Karolyis are co-defendants in several civil lawsuits filed against Nassar and USA Gymnastics, with Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas among those who say Nassar abused them at the training center.
“That’s awful,” Marta Karolyi said. “But I would say even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who was violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad.”
The Texas Rangers were asked in January to investigate the circumstances around what happened at the ranch over the years.
Maroney said Nassar earned the trust of many of the girls by sneaking them food outside the strict diet regimen imposed by the Karolyis.
In January, USA Gymnastics said it was cutting all ties with the Karolyi ranch, several returning gymnasts saying it would be difficult to train there again after the revelations of Nassar’s molestations.
Bela Karolyi coached US gymnast Mary Lou Retton to 1984 Los Angeles Olympic gold only three years after defecting from Romania to the United States.
Marta Karolyi took over as US national team coordinator in 2001 after serving as national team coach under Bela.
She guided Olympic all-around gold medal efforts from Carly Patterson in 2004 at Athens, Nastia Liukin in 2008 at Beijing, 2012 by Douglas at London and 2016 by Biles at Rio, where Raisman took silver in all-around.