Olympic gold medal-winning gymnasts Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian, who helped UCLA win this year’s NCAA team championship, Thursday said they were among the women and girls who were sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician Larry Nassar.
Ross and Kocian said they waited to come forward instead of joining the more than 150 women who spoke at Nassar’s trial in January, because it wasn’t until recently that they felt comfortable speaking publicly about the abuse they had endured. Nassar pleaded guilty to multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.
Listening to statements from other victims, including Olympian and current UCLA assistant coach Jordyn Wieber, compelled Ross and Kocian to add their voices to the chorus of athletes demanding reform and safeguards within USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
With Ross’ statement on Thursday, every member of the 2012 “Fierce Five” Olympic champion team has said she was sexually abused by Nassar. Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Wieber previously made accusations against Nassar. Kocian joins 2016 Olympic teammates Douglas, Raisman, and Simone Biles in saying they also had been abused.
“It has taken time to process and realize that what happened to me and all of my survivor sisters was terribly wrong. I thank all of them for coming forward to demand change form USAG/USOC, and I am honored to join that invincible army,” Ross, who won team gold at the 2012 London Games and five world championship medals, said on her Twitter feed.
Kocian, a team gold medalist and uneven bars silver medalist at the 2016 Rio Games, also said she was ready to become part of “the incredible army of women” speaking out about having been abused. “It has taken me time to process the traumatic events that I endured but I have chosen to find strength and courage through this all,” she said on Twitter.
Both women cited a culture of coercion that kept them silent for a long time. Ross said her abuse began when she was 13. Nassar was a familiar face and an authority they had been trained to obey without question. “You live under a fear of not being able to speak up because this was our only avenue to accomplish our dreams and make the Olympic team,” Kocian told the Associated Press.
USA Gymnastics, which is conducting the national championships this week in Boston, issued a statement saying it was “heartbroken and sorry that Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian or any of our athletes have been harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics’ support is unwavering for Kyla, Madison and all athletes who courageously came forward to share their experiences. Their powerful voices and stories will continue to be a basis for our future decisions."
The organization has gone through a shakeup at the executive level but athletes have called for more assurances about their safety.
Kocian and Ross are 21, and both will be juniors at UCLA next season.
Bruins gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field said she knew about the Kocian’s experiences since Kocian’s freshman year and learned of Ross’ experience this year. She said both women leaned extensively on Wieber, but Wieber never pushed them to come forward.
Wieber is coaching incoming UCLA freshman Marzgetta Frazier at the U.S. championships this week, a potentially awkward situation because Kondos Field said USA Gymnastics has never reached out directly to Wieber with an apology or to check on her well-being.
“Jordyn didn’t really process it and accept it until literally three days before she testified. Maddie and Kyla needed time to process it,” Kondos Field said in a phone interview. “Kyla did not want to come forward because, she said, ‘I refuse to be a victim. I’m not a victim.’ I said, ‘Honey, that’s fantastic. But there’s a difference between being victimized, and being a victim.’”
Kondos Field said their experiences were discussed among team members in January. “They both said they were really uncomfortable when I brought it up at first at a team meeting,” Kondos Field said, “but they said the more we talked about it the more they were able to put words to their feelings, and so their feelings no longer had control over them. They had control over their feelings.
“And then Kyla said, ‘You know Miss Val, I literally felt myself walking taller as the season went on.’ Kyla said, ‘I absolutely believe that one reason we won the national championship this year was because we talked through all this and felt so empowered.’” She added that Kocian had a 4.0 grade-point average last quarter.
Kondos Field also said she has always encouraged her gymnasts to be open and vocal. Many of them who had competed at the Olympic level were unaccustomed to having two-way conversations after being told they shouldn’t question authority.
“The thing I tell all my athletes all the time is that you can say anything you want to anyone as long as it is honest and it is respectful. And that’s how you find your voice,” Kondos Field said. “They were not allowed to have an opinion and certainly not allowed to voice it. They were stripped of that voice. They were stripped of any sense of self. They were not allowed to ask questions. When I get one of these athletes and ask a question they look at me like they’re going to get in trouble if they answer.
“That component is what has been missing — the humanity component. Humanity 101 is what’s been missing.”