‘Athlete A’ is a Netflix documentary that focused on former USAG national team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of young gymnasts as well as the harsh practices that were used by coaches to keep their athletes in line. Over the last few years, we have seen how the sexual abuse scandal and the toxic culture of the USAG has plagued the sports of gymnastics for decades, but this documentary really solidified it all, especially by showing us how the athletes were not cared for, at all, by anyone.
Bela and Martha Karolyi were the coaches of the USA Gymnastics national team for a really long time, and they were the ones who initially started the whole norm of being tough, or as Jennifer Sey said, “cruel” to the kids of the future. Being from Romania, where it was acceptable for them to show a more dominant role, they just never changed their practices in America, because it gave them results. Let’s find out more about them, shall we?
Who Are Bela and Martha Karolyi?
Bela was a skilled athlete on his own, having done boxing and hammer throwing, so it was only natural for him to become a coach. And that’s where he met Martha, the star gymnast on the team he was coaching. After they got married in 1963, they moved to a small town in Romania where they started a gymnastics class in an elementary school. Later, because of their success there, they were invited by the government to create a national school for gymnastics.
One thing led to another and they soon became the coaches of the Romanian National Olympic team. However, when they clashed with Romanian Federation officials, they defected to America seeking political asylum. Soon after that, Bela began coaching at a private gym in Houston, and a year later, convinced the gym’s owner to sell it to him. The couple turned it into Karolyi’s World of Gymnastics and set the foundation to become the power couple of gymnastics in America. Their harsh and cruel practices of hitting their athletes and calling them names, though, remained the same.
The Karolyi Ranch, which was featured heavily in ‘Athlete A,’ was initially built as a barn for family escapes. But, because the couple live for gymnastics, it didn’t take long for them to turn it into a training center for Olympic athletes. Because the ranch was so isolating and the parents weren’t even allowed to step foot into it, it’s incredibly shocking to hear them say that they had no idea that Larry Nassar was sexually abusing their athletes there until Steve Penny called them about it in 2015.
Where Are Bela and Martha Karolyi Now?
After Bela and Martha’s coaching helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team take home nine medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, they were on a high note and were planning to sell off their ranch to USAG and retire for good. But, as soon as they returned, they got embroiled in the sex scandal. When Larry Nassar was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, though, the USAG cut off all ties with the Karolyi’s, including cancellation of the sale of the ranch.
This led to the Karolyi’s suing the organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee in Texas, seeking reimbursement for lost damages and claiming no responsibility relating to Larry Nassar’s actions. On January 25, 2018, the ranch was permanently closed and on January 30, 2018, the Texas Ranger Division took over the investigations involving it. Because Steve Penny was arrested for tampering with evidence in the sexual abuse case by having ordered documents to be removed from the ranch, it remains evidence. So right now, The Karolyi’s are wrapped up in a very complex lawsuit.
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