Home Ethics Legal Armour: USA Gymnastics Won’t Buy Famed Karolyi Ranch After All

Armour: USA Gymnastics Won’t Buy Famed Karolyi Ranch After All

Armour: USA Gymnastics Won’t Buy Famed Karolyi Ranch After All
A competitor warming up at the 2016 United States women’s gymnastics Olympic trials. Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

USA Gymnastics has backed out of its purchase of the Karolyi ranch and is exploring alternative sites to hold national team training camps.

The agreement to buy the facility in Sam Houston National Forest located north of Houston was announced on July 25, but USA Gymnastics decided to reverse course within the past six weeks.

“The decision was made for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to unexpected financial expenditures associated with the purchase,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement Tuesday.

Bela and Martha Karolyi had hoped the ranch would be a lasting monument to their legacy with U.S. gymnastics. But it instead became tainted by allegations of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, the longtime USA Gymnastics physician.

A woman who has sued Nassar, USA Gymnastics and the Karolyis said some of the abuse occurred at the ranch. The woman, a member of the 2010 team that won a silver medal at the world championships, also accuses the Karolyis of creating a “toxic” environment that allowed the abuse to occur. USA TODAY Sports does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault who have not made their accusations public.

A second gymnast, Jeanette Antonlin, also has said she was abused at the ranch. But, according to her lawsuit, she was abused between 1997 and 1999. Bela Karolyi did not become national team coordinator until November 1999, and USA Gymnastics said it could not find any records of national team training camps at the ranch prior to January 2000.

Jessica Howard, a three-time U.S. rhythmic champion, has said she, too, was abused at the ranch.

The Karolyis have denied any wrongdoing.

It is not clear what will now become of the ranch. USA Gymnastics is continuing to hold training camps there for the women’s program, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and acrobatics under an existing lease while it searches for a new site.

That could take a while. The portion of the ranch that USA Gymnastics was to purchase included three training gyms; a dance studio; housing for 300 athletes, coaches and administrators; and a dining hall.

USA Gymnastics has also been under scrutiny. An investigation published in August by The Indianapolis Star, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, found numerous cases in which the governing body had been informed of possible sexual abuse by youth coaches that the organization failed to report to authorities. Steve Penny, who led the organization as president since 2005, resigned in March and a replacement has not been named.

The Karolyi ranch began as a small hunting property and became the cornerstone for the Americans’ dominance in women’s gymnastics.

As personal coaches, Bela and Martha Karolyi would take athletes including Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu there to train. Since 2000, it has been the site of monthly training camps, the key element in the semi-centralized training system.

Gymnasts were allowed to train at home with their personal coaches, but traveled to the ranch to be evaluated by the national team coordinator. Martha Karolyi replaced her husband as national team coordinator in 2001, a job she held until retiring following the Rio Olympics.

The camps at the ranch have continued under Valeri Liukin, the current national team coordinator.

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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