There might be one bit of good local news coming out of the Larry Nassar conviction earlier this week.
The former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University was sentenced Wednesday to up to 175 years in prison, after 156 women and girls made victim-impact statements over seven days about his abuse and the suffering he caused.
The good news is that Al and Armine Fong said that no gymnasts from their Great American Gymnastic Express gym in Blue Springs were assaulted by Nassar.
Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Many current and former gymnasts, including gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, said that they were sexually abused under the guise of medical treatment.
“I knew Larry Nassar very well, for many years,” said Fong, who along with his wife Armine coached 2004 Olympic gymnasts Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool, who were part of the silver medal-winning U.S. team in Athens, Greece. “We traveled together and were good friends. Early on, when he was still trying to be a part of USA Gymnastics, to be the team doctor, we went to different gyms and talked a lot about gymnastics and what it meant to us. And that is why I am so shocked, so surprised.
“I am not part of any organization that he might have worked with now, and I was the last to know what was happening. Lately, like so many others, I heard rumors, heard rumblings – but something like this? What he did? I could never imagine.”
Throughout the years of producing Olympians, Olympic hopefuls and U.S. national team members, the Fongs said they never left the girls alone with anyone.
“If they did an interview, Al and Armine were there, by their sides,” said Fong, who owns and runs GAGE with his wife. “With Larry, we were by their sides. That is what I can’t imagine, how he could do those things with their mothers in the room. If Larry ever worked on one of our girls, Armine was right there and all he ever treated for any of the girls we worked with were ankles, maybe some acupuncture – things like that.
“I can say that none of our girls were ever assaulted. We would never put them in that position. We never let them out of our sight.”
USA Today reports that the chief prosecutor, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis, gave special credit to former gymnast Rachael Denhollander for first bringing Nassar's crimes to light.
“These little girls have transformed before our eyes from victims, to survivors, to champions for justice and advocates for change,” Povilaitis told the newspaper.
And Fong agrees.
“What they did is very courageous,” Fong said. “It’s all unbelievable that he was not found out, stopped, before now.”