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Armour: USA Gymnastics Drops Karolyi Ranch Amid Criticism

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A competitor warming up at the 2016 United States women’s gymnastics Olympic trials. Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

After pleas from Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman and several days of public criticism, USA Gymnastics will no longer hold its training camps at the Karolyi ranch.

The federation made the announcement Thursday afternoon, saying a camp scheduled to begin there Monday had been canceled. USA Gymnastics is looking for alternative training sites until a new permanent facility is found.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December,” Kerry Perry said in a statement. “Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this.”

Biles, Raisman and several other gymnasts sexually abused by Larry Nassar have said some of the abuse occurred at the ranch in Huntsville, Texas, where they went for monthly national team training camps. In her Instagram post Monday in which she acknowledged being abused by Nassar, Biles said having to go back to the ranch would further traumatize her.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing in Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” she wrote.

The next day, in an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Raisman accused USA Gymnastics of indifference, and said continuing to use the ranch was proof of it.

Bela Karolyi initially bought the ranch, located about 45 minutes north of Houston in the middle of Sam Houston National Forest, as a hunting property. He and Martha Karolyi would bring their gymnasts there to train when they were personal coaches, and they also ran summer camps for non-elite gymnasts at the remote and rustic site.

Monthly training camps for the national team began there in January 2000, after Bela Karolyi became national team coordinator, and continued after Martha replaced him the next year. The ranch was expanded over the years, and it was designated as a U.S. Olympic Training Site in 2011.

With Martha Karolyi retiring after the Rio Olympics, USA Gymnastics announced in July 2016 that it had reached an agreement with the Karolyis to buy part of the ranch and continue using it as the national team training center. The rhythmic, trampoline and acro programs also use the ranch for training camps, and lower-level, developmental camps for the women’s program are held there, as well.

But the ranch became tainted when Nassar was found to be a serial pedophile, abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. More than a half-dozen national team members have said Nassar abused them at the ranch.

USA Gymnastics announced last spring that it was backing out of the agreement, but would hold training camps there until it could find a new facility. According to minutes from a Dec. 9 board meeting, however, the federation wouldn’t even accept proposals for a new training facility until “early 2018.”

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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