Martha Karolyi told Savannah Guthrie that "any child who was violated by [Larry] Nassar, it's a crime and it's so sad"

By Dave Quinn
April 20, 2018 09:53 AM

Martha and Béla Karolyi say they weren’t aware of the sexual abuse that was happening to hundreds of gymnasts at their elite training ranch in Huntsville, Texas.

The gymnastics coaches — whose names have been synonymous with the sport for more than 35 years, coaching legends from Mary Lou Retton to Kerri Strug to both the 2012 and 2016 USA Gymnastics gold-medal winning teams — broke their silence about now-convicted child molester Larry Nassar to NBC News. During an excerpt of the interview that aired on Today Friday morning, the couple claimed they were unaware of Nassar’s crimes happening at their 40-acre camp.

Explained Martha of the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, “If [the victim’s parents] couldn’t suspect anything? 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. And a parent couldn’t see? How I could see?”

The interview with Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie was excerpted from a larger special about the gymnastic abuse scandal, airing this Sunday evening on Dateline.

The Karolyis defected from Romania in 1981. The husband and wife team eventually overhauled the U.S. approach to gymnastics, eventually taking over command of the national team.

Karolyis Camp has been the designated Olympic Training Site for the USA women’s national gymnastics team. According to their website, gymnasts sleep in cedar log cabins with air conditioning, bathrooms, and showers inside.

More than 250 women and girls have accused Nassar of assault, including Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas.

Nassar, who was fired by USA Gymnastics in 2015 after working with the organization since 1986, received lengthy sentences in Michigan’s Eaton and Ingham counties for sexually abusing girls and women for several years.

He has been called “the most prolific child molester in history.”

Bela Karolyi,Marta Karolyi
Credit: Gregory Bull/AP

“The whole thing is just like an explosion,” Béla told Guthrie. “A gun exploding. Boom.”

“That’s … that’s awful,” added Martha in the clip. “I would say, even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who was violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad.”

USA Gymnastics officials announced in January that they have cut ties with Karolyi Ranch, noting in a statement that it “will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.”

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December,” CEO Kerry Perry said in the statement. “Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.”

Martha Karolyi
Credit: David J. Phillip/AP

RELATED: Simone Biles Accuses Former USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar of Sexual Abuse

The Karolyis have denied any knowledge of abuse, and also told CBS News last year that they “were never aware” that Nassar was “visiting athletes in their rooms without supervision” or performing the controversial procedure.

However, in February 2017, Nassar victim Jamie Dantzscher told 60 Minutes that the Karolyis must have known the doctor was alone in the cabins with the gymnasts.

They had to know,” she said. “I mean, there — there was no one else sent with him. 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.”

An attorney for the Karolyis denied any allegations made against the couple at the time, 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.”