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The Daily News of Los Angeles

 

For 19 months she was referred to only as "Athlete A" in USA Gymnastics, U.S. Olympic Committee, Michigan State documents and court filings, the first known gymnast to tell USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny and other top officials that she was sexually abused by longtime U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics women's national team physician Larry Nassar.

The young athlete's revelation triggered 15 months of behind-the-scenes damage control by USA Gymnastics that led to Nassar being allowed to retire from his Olympic and national team duties without revealing the real reason. In late 2016 a confidential $1.25 million out-of-court settlement was struck with Olympic champion McKayla Maroney that may have violated a California law prohibiting secret settlements involving cases of potential sexual crimes.

These happened while Nassar continued to allegedly molest at least 25, perhaps more than 100, unsuspecting young athletes at the Michigan State's sports medicine clinic and a high profile Michigan gymnastics club, according to documents obtained by the Southern California News Group and interviews.

It was weeks before Penny and USA Gymnastics enlisted the FBI and the U.S. Olympic Committee in trying to get a handle - and keep private - what became perhaps the biggest sexual abuse scandal in American sports history, according to documents and interviews.

Through more than a year-and-a-half and hundreds of pages

of documents detailing how Nassar's abuse extended to as many as 140 victims from coast to coast and USA Gymnastics' efforts to keep that abuse secret, she continued to be referred to as "Athlete A."

No longer.

Maggie Nichols, a member of the 2015 World Championships gold medal-winning team and now an NCAA champion at Oklahoma, said in a statement to SCNG that she was sexually abused by Nassar during a U.S. national team camp in 2015 at the remote Texas ranch owned by U.S. national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi, a U.S. Olympic Committee training site, and elsewhere.

"Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and Michigan State University," Nichols said. "I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols."

During 14 months between when Penny and Rhonda Faehn, USA Gymnastics senior vice president, were first informed of Nichols' allegations, and when charges of Nassar's abuse first became public with the filing of civil lawsuits late in the summer of 2016, USA Gymnastics officials failed to contact officials at Michigan State, where Nassar continued to treat patients, or the Michigan State police, which conducted a criminal investigation of Nassar from early 2014 to July 2016.

"Who allows that?" asked John Manly, an attorney for Nichols and dozens of other alleged victims of Nassar. "Who allows a physician to be put back in a clinic treating children while under investigation for sexually abusing children?"

While USA Gymnastics has said the Indianapolis-based governing body was "sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career," USA Gymnastics attorneys filed a motion in December asking a U.S. District Court in Michigan to dismiss a series of civil lawsuits by Nichols and 92 former athletes. The motion to dismiss was based in part on USA Gymnastics' insistence that it was not obligated to inform Michigan State of Nassar's sexual abuse after USA Gymnastics officials learned of it in June 2015.

"From the onset the USOC and USA Gymnastics engaged in a systemic effort to keep our client and her parents quiet by making them believe going public would jeopardize Nassar being banned and criminally prosecuted when no such thing was happening," Manly said. "(The USOC and USA Gymnastics) wanted to keep it secret because 1) they didn't want explosive headlines going into the Rio Olympics and 2) they were trying to protect Los Angeles' Olympic bid.

"The net result was dozens of young girls in Michigan were abused because USA Gymnastics wouldn't call Michigan State."

USA Gymnastics officials told the USOC they were following the proper procedures after learning of Nichols and Maroney's abuse, a USOC official said.

"We were first made aware of the possibility that a USA Gymnastics physician had sexually abused USA Gymnastics athletes in the summer of 2015 when we were informed by USA Gymnastics," USOC spokesperson Mark Jones said in a statement. "At that time USA Gymnastics indicated that they were in the process of contacting the appropriate law enforcement agencies. We are heartbroken that this abuse occurred, proud of the brave victims that have come forward and grateful that our criminal justice system has ensured that Nassar will never be able to harm another young woman. We are hopeful that with the U.S. Center for SafeSport's continued education and prevention efforts, as well as their investigative and adjudicative authority, we will help ensure that tragedies like this will never happen again."

Michigan State said it does not comment on matters under litigation.

Nichols, 20, is the latest former U.S. national team member to go public with their accounts of abuse at the hands of Nassar, who was recently sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges. McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, members of the Fierce Five, the record-setting 2012 Olympic champion team, recently confirmed they were routinely sexually assaulted by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment while competing for Team USA at major international competitions like the Olympic Games and World Championships.

Jamie Dantzscher, an Olympic bronze medalist, told SCNG in August that Nassar sexually assaulted her and some of her U.S. teammates on an almost daily basis at the 2000 Olympic Games.

"Recently, three of my friends and former National Team members who medaled at the 2012 Olympics have bravely stepped forward to proclaim they were sexually assaulted by USA Gymnastics Team Physician Dr. Larry Nassar," Nichols said, referring to Maroney, Raisman and Douglas. "Today I join them.

"I am making the decision to tell my traumatic story and hope to join the forces with my friends and teammates to bring about true change."

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