A report commissioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee into the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal was strongly critical of the culture created by longtime coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, saying that the atmosphere at the couple’s Walker County ranch gave disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar “broad latitude” to abuse young gymnasts.
The 237-page report compiled by the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, which was made public Monday, also said that two top USOC officials, former CEO Scott Blackmun and chief of sport performance Alan Ashley, failed to take prompt action to protect gymnasts and others after receiving initial reports of allegations against Nassar in 2015.
The report is critical of what it described as USA Gymnastics’ lack of oversight regarding Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi Ranch between Huntsville and New Waverly, the longtime site of the USA Gymnastics women’s training center.
It also said the Karolyis created “an expectation of absolute perfection and a single-minded and exacting focus on an athlete’s training and performance-readiness to the exclusion of everything else.” This, combined with the ranch’s isolation, “gave rise to a perfect storm of circumstances that facilitated and enabled Nassar’s abuse of elite gymnasts” at the ranch.
Nassar, the report said, took advantage of a culture that was “intense, severe and unrelenting … (and) demanded obedience and deference to authority.”
Even one of the signature moments in the history of the sport — Kerri Strug’s vault at the 1996 Olympics, after suffering an injured ankle, to help the U.S. women win a gold medal — is cited as an example of an approach that emphasized results over athletes’ safety.
Strug’s vault, the report said, “has since become a source of national pride. And yet it also serves as a warning about the casual disregard for athlete safety by those entrusted with their welfare and the overwhelming pressure on athletes to persevere at any cost.”
Regarding the Karolyi Ranch, as well as the Karolyis’ roles as national team coordinators for most of the past two decades, “no institution or individual took any meaningful steps to ensure that appropriate safety measures were in place to protect the young gymnasts. And within the isolated and secluded environment of the Karolyi Ranch … Nassar had broad latitude to commit his crimes,” the report said.
The culture faced by gymnasts during the era when the Karolyis were influential, the report said, “normalized intense physical discomfort as an integral part of the path to success.” It also led to social isolation and encouraged gymnasts “not to rock the boat.”
“When those pressures were coupled with the harsh and isolated conditions at the Karolyi Ranch, they together gave rise to a perfect storm of circumstances that facilitated and enabled Nassar’s abuse of elite gymnasts,” the report added.
See here, here, and here for some background. The irony, of course, is that for the longest time that “expectation of absolute perfection and a single-minded and exacting focus on an athlete’s training and performance-readiness to the exclusion of everything else” was considered the Karolyis’ main virtue as gymnastics coaches and the fulcrum for all of the adoring press they’d received over the years. Turns out that kind of system has its flaws. The 237-page report is embedded in the story, but if you don’t want to read it you can instead read this ThinkProgress summary of it, which makes that case that the USOC should join USA Gymnastics on the junk pile of history. Deadspin has more.