Iowa State gymnastics reacts to U.S.A. doctor’s sentencing of up to 175 years

Junior MJ Johnson works to correct a handstand in her uneven bars routine during the first home meet of the season against Arizona Jan. 12.  Johnson scored a 9.625.

Austin Anderson

Iowa State gymnast Ariana Orrego remembers him. She was competing for Peru at the World Championships in 2014 and she needed athletic tape. Orrego was in the same session as the United States and one of the Peru coaches pointed at U.S.A. team doctor Larry Nassar.

“That doctor is my friend,” the coach said. “Go ask him for tape.”

“No,” Orrego’s personal coach said immediately. “Don’t ask him.”

She was confused but didn’t think much of it. Her mother left to go buy her tape from somewhere else.

“I just thought my coach didn’t want me to talk to them,” Orrego said. “That was really weird.”

Maybe that was the case, or maybe Orrego’s coach might have known something the rest of the world had yet to catch on to. Being around Nassar wasn’t safe.

Nassar, the former American gymnastics team doctor, was sentenced on Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes, bringing an end to a week-long hearing that saw over 150 young women publicly confront him and speak of their abuse, according to the New York Times. 

“The sentence is well deserved,” said Iowa State gymnast Meaghan Sievers. “We’ve known for a long time, but to hear the extent of how much has happened and how many people he’s effected, it’s appalling.

“It’s heartbreaking to listen to. I’ve watched some of these and cried because these girls are our age. They’re doing the same thing we’re doing and they started for the same reason we did, they love the sport. Unfortunately, one person has ruined that image for them.”

Nassar, 54, was accused of molesting girls for years, disguising his actions as medical treatments and examinations. Some were Olympic gold medalists, like Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney. Others were as young as six years old.

“I’m appalled that this ever occurred,” said Iowa State gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne. “That it happened over years and years and years is mind boggling. It makes me incredibly angry. To be a professional in this sport and to love this stuff as much as I do, to see someone take advantage of that for their own means, it’s crushing.

“I feel like my team are my daughters. If any one of them suffered through something like that I would be so heartbroken for them that I don’t know what I would do. I can’t imagine what the parents of these young ladies are going through not to mention what these young ladies are going through.”

Ronayne has coached and competed in gymnastics for nearly his entire life and came across Nassar on multiple occasions. He was a part of teams that competed at Michigan State when Nassar was a team doctor and has friends in the coaching world who were friends with Nassar. They knew each other on a first name basis.

“He always seemed like a professional,” Ronayne said. “He was a doctor and very focused on our sport. You always imagine that someone accused of something like this to be this huge monster. He’s the opposite. I never would have guessed.”

That’s what benefited Nassar the most. According to testimonies and reports, people trusted Nassar.

“People call it the master manipulator because that’s what they do,” Ronayne said.

Many people tied to USA Gymnastics have resigned, including the chairman and multiple members of the board. On Wednesday, multiple reports have said Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon has resigned from her position.

USAG has also severed ties with the Karolyi Ranch, a world renowned private training center, where some of the abuse took place. Several Iowa State gymnasts have been through training at the ranch.

“I don’t have the answers and I don’t know if anyone does right now, but it’s going to need a lot of change,” Sievers said. “It’s just really sad to see, as someone who’s been in it and is now on the outside looking in, it’s just really sad because we truly have some of the best athletes in the world in the United States gymnastics program.

“It makes me sad they had to go through this and I just hope for better.”