Gymnasts lined up before Martha Karolyi (in the white jacket) after their morning workout at the Karolyi Ranch in January 2011.

Karolyi Ranch produced champions and a culture of fear, ex-gymnasts say

Updated 1:47 PM ET, Fri February 2, 2018

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Story highlights

  • A US champion said she self-inflicted a head injury to avoid going to Karolyi Ranch
  • The Karolyis have not returned calls for comment

(CNN)Tucked away in the boondocks of southeast Texas hid the mecca of American women's gymnastics -- a training camp so revered and remote, years of abuse festered unabated, ex-gymnasts say.

But they're not just talking about molestation at the hands of Larry Nassar. They say Bela and Martha Karolyi, the famed owners of Karolyi Ranch, inflicted verbal and emotional abuse that fostered a culture of fear.
"There is an eerie feeling as soon as you step foot onto the Karolyi Ranch. It is completely removed from all civilization," former gymnast Mattie Larson said.
Athletes walk across Karolyi Ranch in 2011. Elite gymnasts from across the country came to train at the ranch.
"In the case of an emergency, the closest hospital is so far away, you'd need to be helicoptered there. To get to the ranch, you must drive up a dirt road for what seems like an eternity. ... On top of that, there is no cell service. It's completely isolated, and that's no mistake. That is how the Karolyis wanted it."
For decades, top female gymnasts endured the rigors of Karolyi Ranch -- a sprawling 2,000-acre compound set in a national forest. It was the US Women's National Team Training Center and a US Olympic Training Site, where important opinions on gymnasts' fate took shape under the watchful eye of Martha Karolyi.
"The complete detachment from the outside world, on top of careless and neglectful adults, made the ranch the perfect environment for abusers and molesters to thrive," Larson said.
    Several elite gymnasts have said they were molested by Nassar when he was the team doctor at Karolyi Ranch. And a lawsuit claims the Karolyis struck young children there.
    Larson posed an open question to Martha Karolyi: "Martha: Did you keep Larry around because he was a good doctor? Or did you really keep him around because he let us compete when we were injured and was willing to keep your secrets?"
    Neither Martha nor Bela Karolyi has spoken publicly about the Nassar abuse scandal. The couple have not responded to multiple CNN requests for comment, nor have their attorneys.