Martha and Bela Karolyi, the renowned coaches who were linked to competitive gymnastics in the United States for decades, have broken their silence about the shocking sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the sport, and placed them under intense scrutiny.
Speaking out about the headline-making scandal for the very first time, the legendary coaches appeared in a Dateline special Sunday evening, Silent No More. Olympian McKayla Maroney also appeared in the special, revealing the night of abuse that pushed her to speak out against disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar — back in 2011.
In the Sunday special, Martha and Bela told Savannah Guthrie that the entire ordeal surrounding Nassar — who sometimes abused girls at their world-famous training facility in Texas — has been “just like an explosion.”
“Any child who is violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad,” Martha said, as she and her husband denied having any knowledge of the abuse.
“The whole gymnastics community couldn’t recognize it,” she continued. “Everybody said, ‘Larry Nassar is a good doctor, Larry Nassar is a good guy.’”
RELATED: Martha Karolyi Says Gymnasts’ Parents ‘Couldn’t See’ Larry Nassar Abuse: ‘How I Could See?’
Earlier this year, Nassar received lengthy sentences in two Michigan counties for sexually abusing girls and women for several years. Many victims claimed Nassar inserted ungloved fingers into their vaginas and told them he was simply giving them medical treatment. Some athletes have said Nassar would abuse them in their cedar log cabins at the camp — and claimed that the Karolyis knew Nassar was alone in the cabins with the girls.
However, Martha told Guthrie that there was “never, ever one single complaint” raised about Nassar to either her or Bela and that there’s no way they could have known.
“I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this,” she said. “And the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?”
Martha insisted that she “didn’t turn a blind eye” when pressed by Guthrie asking how she couldn’t have known. Although Martha feels bad that the abuse happened, she said that her conscience is “very clear.”
“I feel extremely bad,” she said. “I don’t feel responsible but I feel extremely hurt that these things happened and they happened everywhere but here also.”
In January, USA Gymnastics announced that they had cut ties with the legendary 40-acre camp. The Huntsville, Texas, ranch has long been credited for producing some of the world’s greatest gymnasts. However, the once-beloved camp has come under scrutiny in recent years, as several former gymnasts have said the couple did nothing to protect them, although they allegedly knew Nassar was abusing gymnasts at the training center.
“They had to know. I mean, there — there was no one else sent with him,” former gymnast Jamie Dantzscher previously told 60 Minutes. “And that’s the thing, too, to think, like– what– they– in– in the bed? Why would you– like, the treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”
Bela said that the fallout has “destroyed everything” he worked for. “I feel angry,” Martha said.
An attorney for the Karolyis previously denied any allegations made against the couple, saying in a statement to PEOPLE: “The Karolyis did not have any knowledge of any complaint from anyone concerning any athlete’s alleged mistreatment by Dr. Nassar until they learned of his dismissal from USA Gymnastics during the summer of 2015.”
The couple also announced the end of the camp’s partnership with USA Gymnastics on the ranch’s website:
“After nearly four decades of spiriting young gymnasts towards greatness in sport, our yearly tradition of the Karolyi’s Gymnastics Camp has come to an end. Bela, Martha, and the rest of the camp staff wish to sincerely thank all participants, USA Gymnastics, and everyone who has been a part of our extended family for 35 years of unforgettable memories.”
In March, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman described the famous Karolyi Ranch as “disgusting” and told the Washington Post that there was a culture of fear at the famed training camp. She said the harsh conditions only enabled Nassar to abuse the athletes.
Gymnast Maroney shared the same sentiment during her interview with Guthrie, saying that there was a mentality of “what happens at camp, stays at camp.”
Tonight at 7/6c, @SavannahGuthrie talks exclusively with Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney and former gymnastics team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi on the biggest sex abuse scandal in Olympic history. #Dateline pic.twitter.com/2tO37ouiH7
— Dateline NBC (@DatelineNBC) April 22, 2018
“Me and the girls used to call it ‘torture camp,’ ” she said. “I think it’s that silent abuse where it’s, like, ‘If you say anything we’re not gonna put you on the team.’ It’s very political, it’s very intimidating.”
Martha denied any allegations of physically abusing the gymnasts or forcing them to compete with injuries, but when it came to allegations of emotional abuse she said “it depends on the person.”
“It’s a very serious atmosphere to try to come as close as possible to perfection,” Martha said. “You have to find out who are able to stand the pressure.”
Raisman has also filed suit against the USOC and USA Gymnastics, alleging that the organizations failed to implement safeguards at the Karolyi ranch, leaving the gymnasts vulnerable to abuse at Nassar’s hands.
Aly Raisman on the statement that changed her life #Dateline pic.twitter.com/ZfHrD95AmT
— Dateline NBC (@DatelineNBC) April 22, 2018
“I feel that what people don’t understand is that there were so many adults around us all the time,” Raisman told Guthrie. “And nobody ever asked any questions. Nobody ever said anything. And so that’s why we always thought that we were the problem. You never, ever realized that sexual abuse can happen to you until it does.”
After the episode aired, Raisman seemed to criticize Dateline, tweeting, “Hour prime time for investigative piece, no interview/scrutiny of current/recent execs of USAG, the org responsible for the sport& much of this mess! Why?”
She also claimed that a part of her interview in which she “named someone currently in power at USAG that I reported Nassar to” was omitted from the final broadcast.
Hour prime time for investigative piece, no interview/scrutiny of current/recent execs of USAG, the org responsible for the sport & much of this mess! Why? I named someone currently in power at USAG that I reported Nassar to, it was omitted. Why? Still many unanswered questions.
— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) April 23, 2018
Also in the special, Olympian Maroney told Guthrie that the first time she was abused by Nassar was the first time she met him when she was 13 years old.
“I was basically like face down on the table,” she said. “And that’s when he like did what he would call his treatment. He told me even before it to go get shorts on with no underwear. And basically when that happened, I shut down. And I think he could tell I wanted to go home. Like, I felt very uncomfortable. I didn’t know what just happened. I wished my mom was with me.”
She said the abuse continued when he traveled with the team and that she reached a breaking point at the World Championships in Tokyo in 2011.
“He went like overboard that night I was bawling, naked, on a bed, him on top of me,” she said. “And I thought I was going to die.”
Maroney spoke out for the first time about Nassar while driving back from a training session with a coach named John Geddert. She was 15-years-old at the time.
“I was in the car driving back to the hotel,” she said. “And I even said out loud that last night, Larry was fingering me.”
She claimed: “I remember John Geddert was in the car and just said nothing.”
Geddert did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment.
Geddert — who was suspended from USA Gymnastics earlier this year — previously said in a statement he had “zero knowledge” of Nassar’s abuse, NBC News reported. After Geddert’s suspension, his attorney said that the former coach wanted to “convey his heartfelt sympathy to all victims of Larry Nassar,” according to NBC News.
John Geddert did not respond to NBC’s repeated requests for comment.
— Dateline Producer (@DatelineNBCProd) April 23, 2018
More than 250 women and girls have accused Nassar of assault, including gymnasts Raisman, Maroney, Simone Biles, and Gabby Douglas.
He has been called “the most prolific child molester in history.”