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Olympic gymnastics coach found dead hours after shocking charges

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Former US women's Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert is seen in these photos.
Former US women's Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert took his own life after numerous charges filed against him. Pic: AAP

Former US women's Olympics gymnastics coach John Geddert has taken his own life, hours after prosecutors filed human trafficking and sexual assault charges against him.

Geddert was head of the American women's gymnastics team in 2012 and worked closely with disgraced former team doctor Larry Nassar, who was convicted of abusing hundreds of athletes.

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In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to up to 300 years in jail for abusing more than 250 girls.

Geddert, 63, once owned the training facility in Michigan where Nassar served as the gym's doctor.

A number of gymnasts accused him of abusive behaviour when they testified during Nassar's trial.

The office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel outlined 24 felony charges facing Geddert on Thursday morning.

He was expected to turn himself in on Thursday afternoon but did not appear, with the attorney general's office later explaining that his body had been discovered.

"My office has been notified that the body of John Geddert was found late this afternoon after taking his own life," Ms Nessel said in a statement.

"This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved."

Earlier Thursday, Nessel had announced a 24-count complaint against Geddert, who owned a training facility where convicted sex offender Larry Nassar served as the gym doctor.

It included sexual assault charges involving an unnamed athlete between the ages of 13 and 16, and alleged that Geddert's treatment of young gymnasts constituted human trafficking "as he reportedly subjected his athletes to forced labor or services under extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm.

"Geddert then neglected those injuries that were reported to him by the victims and used coercion, intimidation, threats and physical force to get them to perform to the standard he expected," prosecutors said.

The ex-coach came under scrutiny because of his close personal and professional relationship with Nassar, the former US national team doctor sentenced to life in prison over the sexual abuse of multiple young female gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment.

A personal coach to US gymnast Jordyn Wieber and owner of the Twistars training facility in suburban Michigan, Geddert was accused by many Nassar victims of requiring them to be treated by Nassar.

Seen here, disgraced former US Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar during his sexual assault trial.
Larry Nassar was handed a life sentence in jail after being convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of young gymnasts. Pic: AAP

Geddert at centre of numerous allegations

USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert in 2018. He immediately announced his retirement and said he had "zero knowledge" of Nassar's crimes.

However, in three weeks of sentencing hearings during which some 200 women, girls and victims' family members confronted Nassar by reading victim impact statements, Twistars gymnasts said they had endured physical and verbal abuse by Geddert.

Amy Preston, mother of an unidentified Nassar victim who was trained at Twistars, said in court that her daughter suffered under Geddert's emotional abuse, which she said Nassar exploited to build trust with the young gymnast.

"John Geddert behaved as brutally as they say, and Larry was as kind as they speak. A very toxic and lethal combination as it turns out," Preston said.

Prosecutors stressed on Thursday that the only charge against Geddert specifically linked to Nassar was that of lying to authorities when asked whether he knew the doctor was sexually abusing athletes.

Otherwise, they said "the crimes alleged against Mr Geddert are his own."

He was also charged with racketeering, with prosecutors alleging he trafficked 15 athletes for financial gain.

Pictured here, American coach John Geddert with Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber.
US Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber is seen here with her former coach John Geddert . Pic: Getty

'Abusive behaviour was widely known'

Nessel acknowledged that the forced labor-human trafficking charges "have not typically been used and applied to the set of circumstances that I think exist in this case."

But she said months of reviewing case law convinced prosecutors they are applicable.

"The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm," Nessel said, adding that Geddert subjected his gymnasts to "excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even while injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault."

Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, tweeted that Geddert's abusive behaviour was widely known as early as 2000.

"Geddert's abuse, like so much, was never a secret. EVER," she tweeted.

"In my memoir I wrote about knowing of it even as a club level gymnast in 2000. Because we have to grapple with the reality that it was known, and no one stopped him. It was known, and he was promoted and given more power."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

with AFP

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