Former elite gymnast Mattie Larson was near the height of her career when she started abusing laxatives to deal with the pressure to stay thin, and in a new interview she recalls how legendary gymnastics coach Martha Karolyi would praise girls who ate very little.
The 25-year-old, who was one of the victims who was sexually abused by disgraced USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, opened up to Vice News Tonight about the misery and abuse she endured during her monthly practice sessions at Martha’s USAG national team training center in Texas known as ‘the ranch.’
‘Martha would kind of look around, and she would comment when people had very little food on their plate,’ Larson recalled. ‘She’d be like, “Eating so well, I see,’ and you would have a piece of chicken this big and like a grain of rice.’
Suffering: Former national champion gymnast Mattie Larson has detailed the abuse she suffered at the hands of USA gymnastics coaching staff in a new Vice News Tonight interview
Pressure: Mattie (pictured in 2008 at age 16) said she started abusing laxatives when she was 15 or 16 to stay thin, noting that she took so many she panicked she would soil her leotard
Pain: Mattie (pictured speaking against gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in court in January) explained that she suffered serious mental abuse while training as an elite athlete
Elite gymnasts would travel to the ranch once a month for week-long visits that Larson dreaded. While sharing her impact statement against Nassar in court in January, Mattie talked about first attending the national camp in Texas, where at the age of 10 she would call her parents sobbing to come home.
Larson, a member of the U.S. National Team from ages 14 to 19, told Vice News Tonight she would be so tired that she always felt like she was ‘going to pass out at the end of practice.’
‘Around the age of 15 or 16 I started taking so many laxatives every day,’ she explained. ‘It was insane. My focus of practice was not gymnastics, it was don’t s**t your pants in your leotard.’
Although they have faced allegations of mistreatment and abuse in the past, Martha and her husband Bela Karolyi have always denied them.
As part of her impact statement in January, Larson discussed how the pressure put on by the camp’s coaches caused her to ‘eventually spiraled into a very intense and destructive eating disorder for six years.’
Misery: The former national champion said she dreaded her monthly visits to Bela and Martha Karolyi’s USAG national team training center in Texas known as ‘the ranch’ (pictured)
Added pressure: Mattie said Marta (pictured far left) praised girls who opted for small portions during meals
‘I took anywhere from 5 to 15 laxatives without missing a single day for those six years, thinking that was the only way to stay skinny enough and therefore be liked by my coaches and the national team staff,’ she said.
The remote ranch was also the site where Nassar abused many of his victims, including Larson. In her civil lawsuit, she accused the Karolyis of ‘turning a blind-eye’ to the sexual abuse, a claim the couple has denied in their depositions, which have been obtained by CNN.
‘I don’t think it’s possible for someone like Larry to get away with doing what he did for 20-plus years if it’s not in a corrupt environment and organization,’ Larson told Vice News Tonight. ‘I just don’t really see how that would work.’
Medalist: Larson winning silver in the all-around at the 2010 Visa Championship
When she appeared in front of the pedophile doctor in court in January, she recalled the horrific assaults she was forced to endure starting at the age of 14 while she attended the Karolyi Ranch in Texas to train at the national camp.
She also revealed that a USA Gymnastics representative was in the room while she was assaulted by Nassar, before calling out the Karolyis and Nastia Liukin’s father Valeri for allegedly fostering an atmosphere that allowed Nassar to thrive.
‘Larry, I trusted you, I believed you were a kind person,’ Larson said. ‘Your kindness was simply a ploy to molest me every chance you got.’
Larson then looked right at her abuser and said: ‘Larry, I can’t even put into words how much I f***ing hate you.’
‘Larry, my coaches, and USAG, turned the sport I loved into my personal living hell,’ said an emotional Larson.
She went on to talk about first attending the national camp in Texas, where Nassar abused her from the age of 14 until she left the sport. She said the abuse occurred every time she saw the pedophile doctor.
The Karolyi Ranch was ‘a perfect environment for abusers and molesters to thrive’ said Larson, who noted that there were no hospitals nearby and cell phone reception was non-existent.
Horrific: The remote ranch was also the site where pedophile doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused many of his victims, including Larson (pictured at the 2010 VISA Championships)
Terror training: Larson tried to give herself a concussion to avoid having to attend the Karolyis camp (L to R: Larson, Aly Raisman, Alicia Sacramone, and Bridget Sloane in January 2011)
There was a maximum security prison, but that was 30 miles away from the gym.
Larson said that when she dislocated both ankles and broke her foot at the same time Nassar did not wrap them, but instead he assaulted her while her friends watched TV oblivious to what was going on behind them.
‘No matter what Larry was supposed to be treating on me — usually ankles or knees — his fingers always seemed to find their way inside me,’ Larson said.
In her interview with Vice News Tonight, Larson spoke of the injury, explaining Nassar would let gymnasts compete when they were ‘super injured.’
She said she didn’t even get a wheelchair when she hurt her ankles and foot. Instead, she was forced to roll around on an office chair whenever she could.
‘I had to stay the rest of the camp, crawling on my hands and knees,’ she said, noting that the other adults did nothing to help her.
Stress: Mattie said she was mistreated by coaches after she failed to execute a routine at the 2010 world championships, where team USA earned a silver medal
Allegations: Mattie accused the Karolyis of ‘turning a blind-eye’ to the sexual abuse at the ranch, a claim the couple has denied
Naming names: Larson walked away at the age of 19, finding it too difficult to go on given Nassar’s assaults and her treatment by the Karolyis and national coach Valeri Liukin (above in 2008 with his daughter Nastia)
Back: Mattie briefly returned to gymnastics to compete at the college level at UCLA (pictured)
Larson went on to become the 2010 U.S. national champion on floor exercise, but despite her success, it all became too much for her. She revealed in court that she stepped away from the sport shortly after trying to give herself a concussion.
‘I was taking a bath when I decided to splash water on the floor and bang my head as hard as I could on the tub so it looked like I slipped,’ she told the court. ‘I was willing to physically hurt myself to get out of the abuse that I received at the ranch.’
It worked; however, when she returned, Martha mocked her for being unable to overcome her injury.
‘You know, Kim Zmeskal fell out of the bunk and still came to practice the next day,’ said Martha, who then ignored her for the entire camp.
Whens she was in court, Larson had a question for her former coach, asking: ‘Martha, did you keep Larry around because he was a good doctor? Or did you keep him around because you knew he’d let us compete while injured and keep your secrets?’
Valeri Liukin was also part of this mistreatment, said Larson, who stated: ‘I had never felt so small and disposable in my life.’
Paving the way: Larson spoke candidly about her eating disorder and the the horrific abuse she endured at the ranch during her impact statement against Nassar in court in January
Monster: ‘Larry, I can’t even put into words how much I f***ing hate you,’ Larson said
She described a similar treatment in 2010 when she failed to execute a routine, one of her last before leaving the sport. That earned the USA silver at the world championships.
Larson stepped away from gymnastics at the age of 19, but she eventually came back to compete at the college level at UCLA. That lasted for a year before she had to stop and drop out of school.
After Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles tweeted that she didn’t want to return to the training facility where she was abused, USAG closed the ranch in January. In February, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison after decades of abuse.
Congressional committees are now investigating the USAG, which told Vice News Tonight it is ‘cooperating fully’ with the investigations, while the Texas Rangers are looking into the ranch.
‘Time is really up. The world doesn’t have to be this way,’ Larson said of the abuse she endured.
‘Yes, there are always going to be evil people in the world, but they don’t have to get away with it, and you don’t have to just take it. Because I did that, and it sucks.’