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3 USA Gymnastics Board Members Resign

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

After days of often raw and painful testimony from his many victims, Larry Nassar, the former doctor to the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team is expected to be sentenced today for sexual assault. As Kate Wells of Michigan Radio reports, the shock waves from this case are now reaching some of gymnastics' most powerful leaders. And just a warning - you might find some of this story disturbing.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: So far, some 150 women and girls have come forward in court to share how they were abused by Larry Nassar.

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MATTIE LARSON: Larry, you were the only one I trusted. In the end, you turned out to be the scariest monster of all.

WELLS: This is Mattie Larson. She's a former national champion. And she, like so many others, says Nassar was able to thrive in an environment where he was the nice guy. In a world of screaming coaches and relentless pressure, Nassar listened to these girls - snuck them junk food, made them feel special. The first time Larson met Nassar was at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center in Huntsville, Texas. It is famously known as the Karolyi Ranch, named for coaches Marta and Bela Karolyi.

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LARSON: There is an eerie feeling as soon as you step foot onto the Karolyi Ranch. It is completely removed from all civilization - and that's no mistake.

WELLS: At places like the ranch, Nassar had unlimited access to young girls who had been taught to work hard and never question authority. Larson says the first time Nassar abused her, she thought him touching her genitals must be part of treating her pelvis injury.

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LARSON: Almost each and every time I receive treatment from Larry from that moment on, he would molest me.

WELLS: Isabell Hutchins was an elite gymnast at a Michigan gym run by a former Olympic coach. She remembers when she injured her leg, Nassar told her she was fine. And her coach made her keep practicing for another month until she was eventually rushed to the ER. The X-ray there showed a broken leg.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ISABELL HUTCHINS: It looked like an ax splitting a piece of wood. And we believed the child-molesting doctor over the child who was the one experiencing the pain.

WELLS: Larson, the national champion, says eventually she tried to injure herself so she would not have to go back to the national training center where Dr. Nassar was working.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARSON: I was taking a bath when I decided to push the bathmat aside, get on the floor and bang the back of my head against the tub hard enough to get a bump so it seems like I slipped. (Sobbing) My parents immediately took me to the hospital because they thought I had a concussion.

WELLS: Several of these women accuse USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, of being slow to respond to reports of abuse. But this week, they're being heard. Three of USAG's board leaders stepped down. Former Olympic coach John Geddert was suspended Monday. Sponsors like Procter & Gamble, Under Armour and AT&T are pulling their support. Larson, the former national champion, says this is all coming after some 150 women and girls poured out their hearts about decades of abuse.

LARSON: It's never too little too late. I mean - no, I take that back. There's things that are too late sometimes. But you know, it's happening now, and that's great.

WELLS: For his part, Nassar is expected to be sentenced later today for sexual abuse. He's already facing 60 years in prison for child pornography possession.

For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in Lansing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIHEI HATAKEYAMA'S "DOOR TO THE COSMOS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.