Over the last several years, the world of the USA women’s gymnastics has drastically changed. Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse scandal has seemingly ruined the sport. Numerous young gymnasts including Olympic stars such as Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Simone Biles, accused the team doctor of sexually abusing them through the Chicago Tribune. The women who were children at that moment were abused and they wanted to protect other girls. Justice might come into play and more than 150 women confronted Larry Nassar in a courtroom during his trial.
There are still a lot of questions on how such horrible abuse could happen. Much of the scandal has been concentrated on where it took place. But what is more important: who witnessed and silently allowed this to happen for many years? We don’t know exactly all the details of this story, but here is what we found out.
One place where the abuse happened was at a training center located in rural Texas. The center is owned by Martha and Bela Karolyi, Romanian trainers who have coached numerous gymnasts for many years. The HBO documentary At The Heart Of Gold: Inside The USA Gymnastics Scandal shed a new light on this story as it gathered first-hand information from sexual abuse survivors. It also raised a lot of crucial questions on how the adults who were supposed to protect children, could let things went so wrong.
However, the documentary doesn’t explain everything, leaving many fans of the USA women’s gymnastics team to wonder: did Bela and Martha Karoly know about Larry Nassar’s actions? If they knew something, why did they do nothing? And where Bela Karoly today? Here is a rare glimpse into Bela and Martha Karoly’s professional life. And let’s start from the very beginning.
Who is Béla Károlyi?
Bela Karolyi an American gymnastics coach who came from Hungary. He was born in 1942 and raised up in a small town, called Kolozsvár. The boy was skilled as an athlete, and very soon he became a national junior boxing champion and even a member of the Romanian hammer throwing team. The sportsman studied at the Romania College of Physical Education with a specialization in gymnastics.
During his senior year, Bella started to coach the women’s gymnastics team, whose member was Márta Erőss. Later, they began to date and started a relationship. The duo tied the knot in 1963, but they didn’t realize what kind of future was waiting for them.
The couple moved to a small town Béla had grown up and started a gymnastics class in the elementary school. Several years later, the talented coaches were offered to create a national school for gymnastics.
Bela Károlyi contributed to Romania’s famed centralized training program which started in the 1950s. The young and promising trainer helped develop the program further. He worked as a coach at the boarding school in Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, training girls chosen for their athletic potential. In 1974, he debuted as an international coach.
Bela and Martha Karolyi in the United States
Bela and Martha Karolyi moved to the United States in 1981 and the couple started a series of menial jobs. However, they managed to find coaching jobs in Oklahoma very soon.
Later, the couple began coaching at a private gym in Houston and a year later they managed to buy that gym. Te coaches transformed it into Karolyi’s World of Gymnastics, launching their foundation to turn into the most powerful duo in US gymnastics history. Bela and Martha Karolyi became real starts in the world of the USA women’s gymnastics. Throughout his thirty years of coaching, Bela Karolyi created 28 Olympians, nine Olympic champions, 15 world champions, 12 European champions, and six U.S. national champions. What was the price of success?
The Karolyi ranch: where is it?
The Karolyis wanted to create a place where young gymnastics could train, not getting distracted from the sports. They built the forest-based ranch, transforming a barn into a large gymnasium where future Olympic athletes would train. From 2001 to 2017, the Karolyi ranch worked as the national team training center, but how did the gymnasts and their companions describe it? In an interview with Deadspin. Jack Carter, who accompanied McKayla Maroney to the ranch said:
It wasn’t the national team training camp; it was the black hole. All of us disliked it.
The only way for the elite gymnasts to communicate with their parents while at the ranch was by using one of two payphones. Could you imagine this? Jack Carter added:
You can go in and there’s not getting out. You can’t escape the place. I think that’s problematic. All the environment did, it enabled Dr. Nassar.
However, later the Karolyis updated their mansion and provided Wi-Fi to the athletes.
What kind of mentors were Bela and Martha Karolyi?
They were known to be harsh trainers and the opinions were divided. For example, one Karolyi champion, Dominique Moceanu, said the couple was really abusive, while another Mary Lou Retton admired the coaches, according to The Washington Post.
Many gymnasts admitted that the Karolyis conducted emotional abuse and encouraged the athletes to restrict their eating, according to NBC News.
Were Bela and Martha Karolyi unaware of the abuse that took place at the ranch?
In depositions for a 2017 civil lawsuit, Martha Karolyi was asked if she knew about the inappropriate treatments Nassar gave the girls. She responded that she “never questioned his therapies” and only saw the doctor doing “some manipulations with arms and things like that.”
Bela Karoly has also denied having any knowledge of abuse, stating he had minimal involvement with gymnasts and trainers since his retirement in 2001.
Where the Karolyis are now?
USA Gymnastics terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in January 2018 after Nassar was imprisoned, per a press release from USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry. USA Gymnastics also canceled the sale of the ranch and in response the Karolyis sued the organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee in Texas, claiming no responsibility related to the abuse scandal.
The Karolyis did a lot for the development of the USA women’s gymnastics and now they tried to defend their efforts. According to reports, the couple continues to face suits from several gymnasts who insist the coaches didn’t do enough to prevent Larry Nassar from abusing them.
This story still raises more questions than answers. And what do you think? Did the Karolyis know about the abuse and were they able to prevent it? Share your thoughts in comments.