Gymnastics: Raisman says it took time to recognize what she says was sex abuse by doctor

(Reuters) - Triple Olympic gymnastics champion Aly Raisman has said in a interview she did not realize at first that she had been treated inappropriately by a doctor accused of having sexually assaulted female gymnasts while he was the U.S. team doctor.

Speaking on the "60 Minutes" television program, Raisman said she wanted to educate young gymnasts that it was sometimes difficult to understand the warning signs of sexual abuse.

When first interviewed by an investigator hired by USA Gymnastics in 2015, Raisman did not immediately accuse the doctor, Larry Nassar, of inappropriate or illegal behavior.

"I was just really innocent. I didn't really know. You know, you don't think that of someone. You know, so I just, I trusted him," said Raisman, who says she was 15 when she was first treated by Nassar.

RELATED: Where the "Fierce Five" are now

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The 'Fierce Five' US women's gymnastics team that won gold at the 2012 London Olympics
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WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The 'Fierce Five' US women's gymnastics team that won gold at the 2012 London Olympics

In London, Jordyn Wieber was 17 and entered the Olympics as the reigning world champion in the all-around. However, despite finishing fourth in the all-around during the qualification round, she was not permitted to compete in the final as two other Americans (Raisman and Douglas) finished higher and only two gymnasts from one country were permitted in the final (21 gymnasts with lower scores were allowed to compete in the final). She did qualify for the final in the floor exercise, finishing seventh.

Today, Wieber is a psychology student at UCLA. In 2015, she announced her retirement from gymnastics on Derek Jeter's website, The Players Tribune. She now serves as a team manager for the Bruins' gymnastics team.

Kyla Ross was just 15 years old in London. She did not reach the finals in any individual events, but did help the team to gold in the team finals with strong scores on the uneven bars and the beam.

Ross recently announced her retirement from elite gymnastics. However, she just enrolled at UCLA, where she is a member of the gymnastics team.

Aly Raisman was the oldest member of the team at 18 and was the team captain. In addition to the team gold, she also won gold in the individual floor exercise, bronze on the balance beam, and just missed a medal in the individual all-around, finishing fourth.

Raisman was a contestant on Season 16 of "Dancing with the Stars" in 2013. Now she is back as a member of the US Women's Gymnastics team competing in Rio. She is the oldest member of the team and affectionately nicknamed, "Grandma Aly" by her teammates.

At just 16, Gabby Douglas was the biggest star of the Fierce Five. In addition to leading the team to gold as the only member to compete in all four events in the team competition, she won the individual all-around gold. She became the first American to ever win gold in both the team and individual all-around.

Along with Raisman, Douglas is also back on the Olympic team competing in Rio. She also now has her own Barbie doll.

McKayla Maroney was 16 at the London Olympics and posted the highest score of any American in the team finals, when she received a near-perfect 16.233 on the vault. She also finished fourth in the individual all-around, but she is most famously remembered for her "not impressed" face on the podium after finishing second in the vault.

In February, Maroney announced her retirement from elite gymnastics. She has now turned her attention to being an Instagram star, with more than a million followers. She is also an aspiring actor and singer.

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Nassar has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault. He is in jail awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges.

Nassar's attorneys, Matt Newburg and Shannon Smith, have each said that due to a gag order they had no comment on the television program.

Raisman said she felt awkward about the doctor's behavior but she thought he was a caring person.

"I said 'Well, his touching makes me uncomfortable, but he's so nice to me' ... and 'I don't think he does it on purpose because, you know, I think he cares about me'."

"I didn't know anything differently. We were told he is the best doctor. He's the United States Olympic doctor and the USA Gymnastics doctor, and we were very lucky we were able to see him.

"I was in denial. You don't want to let yourself believe (you are a) victim of sexual abuse."

 

'LACK OF SUPPORT'

It was only later that Raisman, now 23, started to question Nassar's motives and behavior.

"He would always bring me, you know, desserts or gifts. He would buy me little things. So I really thought he was a nice person."

"I want people to know just because someone is nice to you and just because everyone is saying they're the best person, it does not make it OK for them to ever make you uncomfortable."

According to "60 Minutes", more than 130 women, many of them former athletes, have filed civil lawsuits alleging that Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of treating them for hip, back and other athletic injuries.

Raisman is the second member of the "Fierce Five" gymnasts, who won a team gold at the 2012 London Olympics, to allege abuse by Nassar, joining McKayla Maroney.

USA Gymnastics conducted a review of its procedures for handling sexual misconduct issues following reports last year that it turned a blind eye to allegations.

Steve Penny resigned in March as head of USA Gymnastics and the federation adopted a number of reforms in June that it said would help to prevent and respond better to future cases of abuse.

But Raisman said that while a new policy was in place, she perceived a lack of support from senior administrators during a USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame induction ceremony this year.

"You know, my teammates and I were all sitting at the table, and they did not come over to say 'hi' to us or to congratulate us," she said. "We were treated like, you know, 'We don't want anything to do with you girls'."

She said she was still trying to process and come to terms with her experiences with Nassar.

"I think it's important for people to know too I'm still trying to put the pieces together today. You know it impacts you for the rest of your life," she said.

 

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Tokyo)

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