Gymnastics: Former gymnasts' sex abuse claims

US Olympic team doctor to stand trial, despite denying accusations by dozens of top women athletes

NEW YORK • Three former members of the United States national gymnastics team have come forward to detail the sexual abuse they say was inflicted upon them by a former team doctor, CBS News reported on Friday.

John Manly - a California attorney representing more than 40 women in a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics for failing to protect his clients - says Larry Nassar may have abused hundreds of women over more than two decades. Some of them are believed to be Olympians and at least one was as young as nine at the time of the alleged abuse.

"We know that at least 60 have come forward, but my best estimate is it's in the hundreds and possibly more," Manly told CBS Television's 60 Minutes programme. "I believe... there are members of every single Olympic team since 1996 he did this to."

Nassar, 53, was arrested last November on charges of sexually assaulting a child in Michigan. In December he was indicted on federal charges of child pornography possession.

Dozens of women in lawsuits accuse Nassar, who treated elite US gymnasts as Olympic team physician from 1996 to 2015, of committing multiple acts of indecency on team members.

He has denied the charges, saying he conducted only legitimate medical procedures.

Jessica Howard, the US national rhythmic gymnastics champion from 1999 to 2001, detailed to CBS an exam session with Nassar at the famed Karolyi Ranch in Texas, where USA Gymnastics trains its top female athletes.

"He started massaging me and he had asked me not to wear any underwear and then he just continued to go into more and more intimate places," said Howard, now 33.

"I remember thinking something was off, but I didn't feel like I was able to say anything because he was this very high-profile doctor and I was very lucky to be at the ranch working with him."

Jeanette Antolin, on the US team from 1995 to 2000 and a member of the 1999 artistic gymnastics world championship squad, recalled putting her trust in him too.

"I remember being uncomfortable because of the area, but, in my mind, I was like, 'if this helps, I'll do anything'," she said.

"It was treatment. You don't complain about treatment."

A third woman who spoke with CBS, understood to be an Olympic medallist, was not identified.

While a federal investigation into Nassar continues, the lawsuit filed last October by Manly claims USA Gymnastics and coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi failed to properly monitor Nassar and were partly responsible for allowing a culture that allowed him opportunities to abuse women.

USA Gymnastics said this week that it notified the FBI about Nassar on July 28, 2015 and relieved him of national team duties the next day. Those moves came after officials first learned of a complaint regarding Nassar on June 17, 2015 and conducted an investigation.

Manly told The Washington Post that the lag time between USA Gymnastics receiving a complaint notification and turning to the FBI was woefully improper.

"They are actually acting like they are responsible for him being caught. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Former gymnasts' sex abuse claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe