By MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Last week, numerous athletes trained by Olympic coach John Geddert felt a fleeting moment of victory when he was charged with abusing young gymnasts. Just hours later, their hopes of accountability were crushed when the 63-year-old took his own life.
Geddert, a notoriously tough coach who worked with convicted sex offender Larry Nassar and trained the Fierce Five team that won Olympic gold in 2012, was charged last Thursday with 24 felonies, including counts of human trafficking and forced labor causing injury as well as criminal sexual conduct. Prosecutors said he reportedly mentally and physically abused his athletes and forced them to perform even when they were hurt.
For Lindsey Lemke, a former Michigan State gymnast who accused Nassar of sexual abuse and trained with Geddert at his Dimondale, Michigan, gym, there’s no closure in his death.
“With the charges coming out, it was like a light at the end of the tunnel that we’re going to get justice, this is coming to an end for us, our healing process will continue,” Lemke, 25, told ABC News. “To then all of a sudden get the news that he committed suicide. It was almost unbelievable at first.”
“A lot of us girls are still suffering and trying to heal. In the blink of an eye, we had that taken away from us. We’ll never have closure, we’ll never have answers, we’ll never get to see him convicted,” she added.
Lemke trained at Twistars with Geddert from when she was 7 into her sophomore year of high school. She recalled that on one occasion, Geddert hit her with a mat because she tripped and fell into a vault apparatus during a practice.
“He had a temper that he couldn’t control, and he wanted to instill fear in kids,” Lemke alleged.
Sarah Klein, a former gymnast who also accused Nassar of sexual assault and trained under Geddert from when she was about 5 to 15, said she’s still in shock following his death.
“In my view there’s no greater admission of guilt than being charged and immediately taking your own life,” Klein said told ABC News.
Both women were involved in the investigation into Geddert, which was being led by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Nessel alleged at Thursday’s press conference that under Geddert, young athletes were forced to perform while injured and suffered emotional and physical abuse as well as, for one athlete, sexual assault.
Geddert’s lawyer did not respond to ABC News’ repeated requests for comment on the charges.
Former gymnasts are now demanding justice in the only way they see possible — an independent investigation into USA Gymnastics (USAG), the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States, and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOC).
Following Geddert’s death, USAG told ABC News, “We had hoped that news of the criminal charges being brought against John Geddert would lead to justice through the legal process…Our thoughts are with the gymnastics community as they grapple with the complex emotions of this week’s events.”
USOC didn’t immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Klein said the statement isn’t enough.
“Enough is enough. With the USOC and USAG intact, children and athletes are far from safe,” Klein said. “We call on Congress to demand a fully transparent independent investigation and to deconstruct two vile organizations that have the blood of little, innocent children on their hands. There has been no independent investigation done, as much as they’d like to say there has been.”
Lemke has also called for an investigation into the organizations.
“People need to see that with Larry, there were a lot of people that enabled him, and that includes John. USAG and USOC are the only ones that are left, and they were a part of it,” she said.
She and other gymnasts are calling upon Congress to decertify the organizations.
Aly Raisman, who was part of the Fierce Five, has also raised a rallying cry for the two organizations to be investigated.
“Monsters don’t thrive for decades without the help of people,” she said on CNN on Tuesday. “And we need to understand what happened, how this happened. We need a fully independent investigation. And there has not been one.”
USAG said in a statement last March it “fully cooperated” with six independent investigations led by several congressional committees, the Indiana attorney general and Walker County, Texas, but survivors say those probes didn’t lead to real change.
Klein, who trained with Geddert at Great Lakes Gymnastics Club in Lansing, Michigan, before he started Twistars, said Nassar and Geddert worked together to create a toxic culture and enabled each other.
“John wanted to be famous and go to the Olympics. Larry could help him get there by medically clearing gymnasts who shouldn’t be medically cleared. John covered for Larry by letting him go into the back room with naked children and do whatever he wanted to do with them,” Klein said.
In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years behind bars for his decades of abuse after more than 150 survivors and family members testified against him.
At that time, the USOC and USAG voiced support for his accusers. In January 2018, the USOC issued an apology to Nassar’s victims, saying, “The Olympic family is among those that have failed you.” The organization vowed to create a system where athletes can safely report abuse.
That same month, USAG applauded the jailing of Nassar “to punish him for his horrific behavior,” promising to focus on the “safety, health, and well-being of our athletes” and “create a culture” that supports them.
Geddert had been under investigation for three years, after victim impact statements shared at Nassar’s sentencing hearings claimed Geddert knew about the abuse. He was suspended by USA Gymnastics in January 2018 and subsequently announced his retirement.
For athletes who worked with Geddert, his death is complicated.
“He was a dad and a grandpa. He had a family, and I’m sure they’re hurting,” Lemke said. “There is no celebrating his death, because now all these victims he hurt are never going to have answers. Nobody wins.”
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