For years, the Karolyi ranch — owned by former national team directors Bela and Marta Karolyi — served as both a training centre for USA Gymnastics (USAG) and an opportunity for team doctor Larry Nassar, who after decades of preying on athletes, was convicted of sexual abuse and child pornography in 2018. Netflix's new documentary Athlete A takes a closer look at the conditions that allowed abuse to thrive within USAG.
The Karolyi ranch is alleged to have played a significant role. Nestled in a national forest in southeast Texas, the sprawling 2,000-acre complex was located several miles away from the nearest town, accessible only by a dirt road that seemed to stretch on for "an eternity," according to gymnasts who trained there. The site was devoid of cell service, and parents were asked not to visit, ensuring that the athletes would be isolated while training with the Karolyis, whose style of coaching relied on fear and intimidation. Nassar, who abused athletes under the guise of "treating" them, was seen by many as one of the nicest members of the staff.
In July 2016, more than a year after national team member Maggie Nichols first reported Nassar's abuse to USAG, the organisation announced that it would purchase the training facilities from the Karolyis following Marta's retirement after the Rio Olympics. Under the terms of the $3 million-plus sale, the couple would still retain portions of the land, including their residence, a hunting lodge that Bela had built, and the acreage in between.
However, USAG backed out of the contract in May 2017, citing "unexpected financial expenditures associated with the purchase." By this point, the image of the ranch was sorely tainted; The Indianapolis Star had brought the sexual abuse allegations to light in the fall of 2016, implicating the once-esteemed training site along with USAG officials.
Despite backing out of the deal, USAG continued to hold national team camps at the Karolyi ranch. It wasn't until five-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles shared a statement in January 2018 expressing her displeasure at having to return to the site of her — and many other survivors' — abuse that the organisation ended its contract with the ranch for good. Team USA now trains at a new facility in Indianapolis, hundreds of miles away from its scarred past.