Olympic gymnastics star Raisman demands probe of Nassar abuse

VIDEO: REUTERS
Victim and former gymnast Jordyn Wieber walks to the podium to speak at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar.
Victim and former gymnast Jordyn Wieber walks to the podium to speak at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar.PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (AFP) - Olympic gymnastics superstar Aly Raisman on Friday (Jan 19) faced down disgraced national team doctor Larry Nassar in court, calling him “sick” and demanding an independent probe to find out how he was apparently able to abuse dozens of young girls for years with impunity.

Raisman’s statement came on day four of searing testimony from dozens of Nassar’s victims at his sentencing hearing, shortly after teammate Jordyn Wieber publicly revealed for the first time that she had been abused by Nassar.

“You are so sick. I can’t even comprehend how angry I feel when I think of you,” Raisman, now 23, told the court in Michigan, where Nassar has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct. He faces life in prison.

“You took advantage of our passions and our dreams,” she added.

“We need an independent investigation of exactly what happened, what went wrong, and how it can be avoided for the future. Only then can we know what changes are needed. Only then can we believe such changes are real.”

Raisman, Wieber and two other members of the so-called “Fierce Five” 2012 gold medal-winning squad – Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney – have all said Nassar molested them in the guise of medical treatment.

Olympians Simone Biles, the reigning all-around champion from the Rio Games in 2016, and Jamie Dantzscher, who competed in Sydney in 2000 and took home a bronze medal, have also revealed that they were abused.

 
 

A noticeably nervous Wieber said Nassar first molested her when she was 14.

“I thought that training for the Olympics would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do. But, in fact, the hardest thing I ever had to do is process that I am a victim of Larry Nassar,” said Wieber, who is now 22.

She said Nassar had unfettered access to gymnasts – he was the only male allowed at the national team training camp in Texas and was sometimes left unaccompanied in their hotel rooms.

But the athletes did not question the abuse, she said, because of his stellar reputation in the gymnastics world as a “miracle worker.”

“I even talked to my teammates Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney about this treatment, and how uncomfortable it made us feel. None of us really understood it,” Wieber said.

“USA Gymnastics is accountable. The US Olympic Committee is accountable.”

'I HAVE NO WORDS'

Even though the 54-year-old Nassar only pleaded guilty to 10 counts, the Michigan judge has offered dozens of women the chance to confront him face-to-face by delivering victim impact statements before his sentencing.

More than 100 victims have come forward with accounts of abuse, including Nassar’s onetime family babysitter and athletes in several women’s sports programs at Michigan State University, where Nassar worked.

Under mounting pressure, USA Gymnastics announced on Thursday it would cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch, a longtime training centre for elite athletes in Huntsville, Texas – where Biles says she was abused by Nassar.

But Raisman said Friday: “USA Gymnastics neglected to mention that they had athletes training there the day they released the statement,” prompting disbelief from the presiding judge.

“I didn’t know there were still people there,” said Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. “I have no words for that.”

UNIVERSITY UNDER FIRE

Victims also criticised Michigan State University, Nassar’s employer until September 2016, for not stopping him sooner.

The university’s board of trustees acknowledged the criticism Friday, asking Michigan Attorney-General Bill Schuette to conduct an outside review of its actions.

“We are making this request because we believe your review may be needed to answer the public’s questions concerning MSU’s handling of the Nassar situation,” the trustees said in a letter to Schuette.

“These questions grew louder this week with the victim impact statements.” It was not clear if Nassar’s sentencing on the abuse charges would wrap up on Friday or continue into Monday.

He already faces 60 years in prison after also pleading guilty to child pornography charges.