NEW YORK (AP) — Former USA Gymnastics national team coordinator Martha Karolyi says she feels for the sexual abuse victims of a former national team doctor serving decades in prison but added she doesn’t feel she should be held responsible for his actions.
Karolyi told “Dateline NBC” in an episode that aired Sunday she “feels extremely bad” for the victims of Larry Nassar but downplayed the idea the atmosphere she created at the national team training center allowed Nassar’s behavior to run unchecked.
Karolyi led the national team for 15 years before retiring after the 2016 Rio Olympics. She told Savannah Guthrie she did not turn a blind eye to Nassar’s behavior and that the doctor conned her and husband Bela in much the same way he conned the parents and coaches of the athletes who Nassar abused.
Nassar spent nearly three decades at USA Gymnastics before being fired in 2015 after complaints about his behavior. He continued to work at Michigan State University through the fall of 2016 before being hit with federal charges. Nassar is now serving up to 175 years in prison for molesting women and girls and possessing child pornography.
Several gymnasts and coaches previously interviewed by The Associated Press said the Karolyis institutionalized a win-at-all-costs culture that forced girls to train while injured. The toxic environment allowed Nassar to flourish in part because the athletes were afraid to challenge authority, according to witness statements in Nassar’s criminal case and one of the lawsuits.
Karolyi, who led the U.S. to dozens of medals at the Olympics and world championships during her highly successful tenure, has been named as a co-defendant in at least two civil lawsuits that also name USA Gymnastics and Nassar.
She said she created a “very serious atmosphere” at the Karolyi Ranch that served as the national team headquarters and where some victims, including two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney, say they were abused. Karolyi said her job was to prepare the athletes to compete at the highest level of the sport but denied being verbally abusive to athletes. Asked if she was emotionally abusive, Karolyi responded “it depends on the person” and later said “maybe that’s how it came across” before adding she didn’t know of another way to coach.
Jamie Dantzscher, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team and one of the first women to come forward, told The Associated Press she wasn’t surprised the Karolyis sidestepped responsibility and pointed out the Karolyis allowed Nassar to treat the athletes alone in their rooms without another adult present.
“Regardless if they’re denying that they didn’t see it with their own eyes, they still allowed him in our rooms alone,” Dantzscher said. “They knew he was going into the rooms. He never reported the emotional and mental abuse, that’s how he was able to flourish in that element.”