Though the sport of elite American gymnastics shines bright with gold, the legacy of USA Gymnastics has been tarnished following allegations of sexual abuse, mistreatment of athletes, and a culture that not only encouraged but allowed for this behavior to go on for decades.
In 2016, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar was convicted and sentenced to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting his patients.
In 2018, more than 300 women stepped forward to confront their abuser, including Olympians Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. Following Nassar's sentencing, several documentaries were released which delved into the elite gymnastics culture and how Nassar could get away with sexually molesting his patients for decades under the radar.
Some people have questioned if Bela and Martha Karolyi are at fault after abuse allegations were made against the legendary coaches. Keep reading to find out what happened and where the couple is now.
Who are Bela and Martha Karolyi?
Romanian power couple Bela and Martha became well-known in the sport of gymnastics after their star athlete Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympic Games. After clashing with Romanian Federation officials, the pair defected to America in 1981 and began a new life in Houston as gymnastics coaches.
Throughout the next three decades, the Karolyis helped to build Olympic champions in the sport of gymnastics. The pair even helped Team USA secure their first Olympic gold medal in the sport in 1996. But at what cost?
Allegations surfaced from former athletes who were coached by the pair, accusing them of withholding food and water, making comments about their weight, and hitting and scratching the gymnasts, per USA Today. There were also allegations that Nassar had abused gymnasts on the ranch.
The Karolyis' ranch in Texas became the place for Olympic hopefuls to train, and some say that the isolation of the camp helped foster a silent culture of abuse, which the Karolyis have adamantly denied on all accounts.
"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," their lawyer said in a statement to People in 2017. "At the National Training Camp, the Karolyis encouraged the attending athletes to eat well, sleep well, and train with heart. The Karolyis deny the existence of a 'toxic' environment.”
Is Bela Karolyi still alive? Where is the couple now?
Though Bela retired as a coach in 2001, the 78-year-old's wife Martha acted as the team coordinator for USA gymnastics with plans to step away from the sport following the successful 2016 Olympic run.
In 2010, the couple signed a contract with USAG to lease Karolyi Ranch through 2021 as the official training facility. According to USA Today, USAG was set to purchase the ranch in 2016 for more than $3 million.
After the sale fell through following the misconduct allegations against Nassar, the Karolyis filed a lawsuit in 2018 against USAG seeking damages for the canceled sale of their training facility, and for USAG to declare that they are not liable for Nassar's actions, per the outlet.
“I feel extremely bad,” Martha said in an interview with Dateline in 2018. “I don’t feel responsible, but I feel extremely hurt that these things happened and it happened everywhere but it happened here, also.”
If you need support, The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. You will be connected with a trained staff member in your area. Or visit RAINN.org to chat online with a support specialist at any time.