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Martha and Bela Karolyi: We didn't know about alleged assaults by Larry Nassar

The former Team USA coaches said they had no idea disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar was allegedly sexually assaulting gymnasts at their facility.
/ Source: TODAY

Former Team USA gymnastics head coaches Martha and Bela Karolyi are denying they knew anything about the alleged sexual assaults by disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar that multiple gymnasts say happened at their training facility over a period of years.

In an NBC News exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie, airing Sunday night on "Dateline," the Karolyis open up about the scandal involving the former USA Gymnastics doctor, who has been accused of sexually molesting more than 200 people.

Some of the biggest names in gymnastics, including Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney, have all said they were abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment at the Karolyis' facility in Huntsville, Texas.

"That's awful, but 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,'' Martha Karolyi said.

The number of accusations against Nassar, who has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars, raise the question of how the Karolyis could not have known about his behavior.

"Yes, but if you 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 the parent couldn't see. How could I see?" Martha Karolyi told Savannah.

"The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding,'' Bela Karolyi declared.

Maroney also appears in an exclusive interview in the "Dateline" special in which she says she was molested hundreds of times by Nassar, starting when she was 13.

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"He said that nobody would understand this and the sacrifice that it takes to get to the Olympics, so you can't tell people this," she said. "He didn’t say it in a way that was mean or anything like that. I actually was like, 'That makes sense. I don't want to tell anybody about this.' And I didn't believe that they would understand."

As head coaches of the U.S. gymnastics team, the Karolyis helped make Team USA into an international powerhouse starting in the 1990s, highlighted by the 1996 team gold in the Olympics. Bela was famously shown carrying U.S. gymnast Kerri Strug to the podium after she was injured during the vault competition while helping the team secure gold.

Bela Karolyi famously carried Team USA's Kerri Strug to the medal stand after she was injured helping the team win gold at the 1996 Olympics. AP

In the wake of the scandal which continues to unfold as more of Nassar's alleged victims speak out, USA Gymnastics cut ties with the Karolyis and their facility. Seven new plaintiffs filed lawsuits on Thursday against Nassar as well as governing bodies that oversaw him.

USA Gymnastics told NBC News it does not comment on pending legal matters, adding that it is committed to athlete safety and building a culture of empowerment that encourages athletes to speak up.

The one-hour "Dateline" special, titled "Silent No More," airs at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC and also features an interview with Raisman, who says she pushed for Nassar to be investigated and was pressured to keep quiet.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.