Gymnastics: The Karolyi Ranch seen as ground zero for Larry Nassar's reign of terror

USA Gymnastics announced it will no longer train its elite athletes at the Karolyi Ranch, tucked into the Sam Houston National Forest in Huntsville, Texas.
USA Gymnastics announced it will no longer train its elite athletes at the Karolyi Ranch, tucked into the Sam Houston National Forest in Huntsville, Texas.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The Karolyi Ranch, once famed as a breeding ground of champions, is now tainted by revelations of sexual abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

USA Gymnastics announced on Thursday (Jan 18) that it will no longer train its elite athletes at the facility tucked into the Sam Houston National Forest in Huntsville, Texas, not far from Houston.

However the Indianapolis Star reported that the federation would, in fact, hold its World Team Trials at the venue next month, citing an e-mail from an unnamed USA Gymnastics official obtained by the newspaper.

"Please be aware that due to the close proximity and timing, we still plan to host the World Team Trials event at the National Team Training Centre in Huntsville, Texas, Feb 1-4, 2018," the e-mail to members of the federation's acrobatic gymnastics programme said, according to the Star.

It was the brainchild of Bela and Martha Karolyi, coaches who defected from Romania and helped shape US gymnastics teams into powerhouse squads able to dominate on the global stage.

Bela purchased the property that would evolve into the ranch in 1983, building cabins and a gymnasium.

By 1989, the facility spread over 808ha. The ranch was named the US women's national team training centre in 2001, when Martha was appointed the women's national team coordinator.

 
 
 
 

Monthly training camps were held for elite gymnasts from around the country at the centre, which features multiple gymnasiums, medical and rehabilitation facilities, a dining hall, dance studio and living quarters for 300 athletes, coaches and administrators.

There the Karolyis created a ruthless competitive environment.

They have not been accused of being directly involved in Nassar's criminal abuse, but at least one former national team gymnast named them in a lawsuit alleging the environment enabled Nassar.

The US Olympic Committee designated the ranch a national team training centre in 2011, with then USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny lauding the "team values that are created at the ranch".

Penny resigned in March, under fire for the federation's lack of response to accusations against Nassar.

Simone Biles, who dazzled on the way to winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said in her Twitter post revealing abuse by Nassar at the ranch this week that it "breaks my heart" to think of returning there to train for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Olympic gold medallist Aly Raisman told ESPN this week that any continued use of the ranch as a national team centre was further evidence of indifference on the part of USA Gymnastics.