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Gymnast sues Karolyis, other groups over team doctor’s abuse

May 1, 2018
Bela Karolyi, Marta Karolyi

FILE - In this June 29, 2012, file photo, Bela Karolyi, left, and his wife Martha Karolyi talk on the arena floor before the start of the preliminary round of the women's Olympic gymnastics trials in San Jose, Calif. A former member of the U.S. national team is the latest gymnast to file suit over sexual abuse by imprisoned former sports doctor Larry Nassar. Sabrina Vega was on the team that won a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships. The 22-year-old filed a lawsuit in Texas Tuesday, May 1, 2018, against Nassar, USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Bela and Martha Karolyi, who ran a ranch near Houston that was the training ground for U.S. women's gymnastics. In a statement, Vega alleges the organizations and the Karolyis didn't protect her and other athletes from Nassar's abuse.(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — A former member of the U.S. national team on Tuesday became the latest gymnast to file suit over sexual abuse by imprisoned former sports doctor Larry Nassar’s, alleging USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the husband-and-wife duo who coached America’s top female gymnasts for three decades failed to protect her and other athletes.

Sabrina Vega, who was on the team that won a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships, alleges the organizations along with Bela and Martha Karolyi ignored signs about Nassar’s behavior or should have known he posed a risk to the gymnasts he treated.

Vega alleges that during medical treatments, Nassar molested her hundreds of times from 2008, when she was 12 years old, until 2012, during competitions and while she trained at the Karolyi Ranch. The ranch is outside of Huntsville, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Houston. Vega’s lawsuit was filed in state district court in Huntsville.

“I have struggled to cope with the effects of the repeated abuse I suffered at the hands of Dr. Nassar. USA Gymnastics, the USOC and the Karolyis failed to protect me and the other athletes in their care and I believe they should be held accountable,” the 22-year-old Vega said in a statement.

Vega, who now competes as a gymnast for the University of Georgia, said Nassar’s abuse has caused her depression, panic attacks and anxiety, which have become worse as Nassar’s case has become widely publicized.

In a statement, USA Gymnastics said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation but the organization is “committed to creating a culture that empowers and supports our athletes and focuses on our highest priority, which is the safety and well-being of our athletes.”

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement that Nassar’s “reprehensible behavior” has no place “in our Olympic and Paralympic community” and that the organization “has made significant progress to strengthen protections for athletes, and we recognize that our work is never done.”

An attorney for the Karolyis didn’t immediately reply to emails or calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday the Karolyis had quietly filed a lawsuit last month in Huntsville against USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, seeking more than $1 million in damages. The lawsuit says the couple didn’t know about Nassar’s “reprehensible conduct” and would have reported it if there had been any suspicions about him.

In an interview with “Dateline NBC” that aired last month, Martha Karolyi said she feels for Nassar’s victims but that she doesn’t believe she should be held responsible for his actions.

Vega’s lawsuit is the third to be filed against the Karolyis. The other two were filed in California.

More than 250 women and girls say Nassar, who worked for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, sexually assaulted them under the guise of treatment. He’s now serving up to 175 years in prison for molesting women and girls and possessing child pornography.

Several gymnasts have said Nassar abused them at the ranch, which served as the training ground for U.S. women’s gymnastics. Vega alleges in her suit the Karolyis allowed Nassar to enter the cabins of female gymnasts alone and unsupervised to perform his training techniques.

The ranch is being investigated by the Texas Rangers and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. USA Gymnastics cut ties with the ranch in January.

Vega’s lawsuit is the second filed in Texas in the last few weeks related to the abuse scandal. Last month, Rebecca Whitehurst, a former Texas gymnast who had been a member of the USA Gymnastics team, filed suit in Houston against USA Gymnastics, alleging Nassar abused her in 1996 when she was 15 years old.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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