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Larry Nassar, the longtime USA Gymnastics national team doctor who was convicted of a plethora of sexual abuses in 2018, will remain in jail for the rest of his life. But now, as investigators untangle the web of deception that allowed Nassar to remain in a position of power for decades despite signs he was predatory, a greater system of corruption is being exposed.
Director Erin Lee Carr's latest HBO documentary, "At The Heart Of The Gold: Inside The USA Gymnastics Scandal," explores the motivations behind the people who allegedly protected Nassar. Among the individuals examined is John Geddert, a coach who worked closely with Nassar who many believe facilitated an environment that made Nassar's crimes a possibility. So who exactly is John Geddert, and what role did he play in the Nassar ordeal?
John Geddert is a former gymnastics coach working in Lansing, Michigan, where he trained several prominent gymnasts, including Jordyn Wieber, whose success raised his prestige to unforeseen heights in 2011, according to The Associated Press. He would go on to coach the gold-medal winning gymnastics team in 2012, further boosting his esteem, according to The Lansing State Journal.
Geddert's official website described his teaching style: "John offers strategies and training techniques for gymnastics coaches and club owners to grow the success of their competitive program," reads the since-shuttered page. "You'll discover training techniques, lead-ups, progressions, phase conditioning programs, shaping techniques and more to drastically improve your gymnasts ability to learn and perfect new skills. Your gymnasts will earn higher scores, and achieve higher levels of gymnastics when you follow the strategies provided with our systems. These strategies are revealed through offline and online resources so you can get started immediately."
It was in Lansing where Geddert operated the Twistars club, a gymnastics training facility he founded in 1996, at which Nassar worked as a volunteer doctor on Monday nights, according to ESPN.com.
Students of Geddert's allege his style of coaching was intense, cruel, and deeply abusive. Many have commented on the culture of fear he reportedly fostered to keep his students obedient and afraid, reports The Associated Press.
"He [Geddert] was boss, the enforcer, the screamer, the thrower, the perfectionist, the one from whom we desperately sought approval, or even just some small sign that he actually cared for us and not just for winning," one unnamed former student told 6 News of Lansing, Michigan.
The school — and Geddert's behavior — had been the subject of two investigations long before Nassar's crimes were exposed: once in 2011 and again in 2013.
The 2011 investigation was sparked by an incident in which Geddert allegedly became involved in a physical confrontation with an employee. Geddert did not show up for police inquiries about the alleged attack, during which he was said to have stomped on the employee's foot to prevent them from leaving. He claimed at the time that he was too busy to be interviewed. Prosecutors ultimately did not file charges, claiming they lacked "assaultive intent beyond a reasonable doubt," according to The Lansing State Journal.
In 2013, a juvenile gymnast said she was attacked by Geddert after he became enraged during practice. The young woman claimed she was pushed against a wall, stomped on, and that her arm was forcibly grabbed. Geddert was ordered to receive counseling and the charges were subsequently dropped, according to The Lansing State Journal.
Beyond these two investigations, more trainees have since coming forward with an extensive list of accusations about the hideous practices Geddert is said to have imposed upon his students.
One unnamed former gymnast at Twistars, where athletes allege they were deprived of food and water (even in the summers, when the facility was not air conditioned), says Geddert's training caused her to develop an eating disorder at the age of 13. If students were caught eating before they were given permission to, they were forced "scrub the bathroom floor with our toothbrush," she said, according to the Lansing State Journal. "[Geddert] even walked through our locker room without any warning while we were changing."
Makayla Thrush, who trained at the club from ages 7 to 17, alleged Geddert ended her career with physical abuse: She claims he had thrown her on top of a low bar, rupturing the lymph nodes in her neck and tearing the muscles in her stomach.
"There isn't one bone in my body that doesn't hate John Geddert for everything he has done to me in my career," Thrush told The Associated Press.
Another unnamed student shared even more horrific stories about Geddert with 6 News.
"I was dropped from about 15 feet in the air in a spotting belt because I didn't make the corrections he [Geddert] wanted me to make, landing on my back on a thin mat," she said. "I was shoved off the beam when he was mad or pushed, and numerous pieces of mats, water bottles, and ice thrown at me when he was mad ... Even though we cried and asked for him to stop, he wouldn't."
Annie Labrie, a former student of Geddert's, discussed the ubiquity of his dominating tactics.
"Coaching by fear, intimidation and shame and explicit favoritism was the norm," Labrie said to The Associated Press. "We were conditioned for years to obey at all costs."
The parent of a child who remains part of the ongoing investigation into Geddert (and is therefore also unnamed) went even further, dismissing the idea that Geddert was simply preparing his students for a harsh industry.
“John's not just some tough coach. He's an abusive, narcissistic pig who finds great joy in tearing little girls apart. And it needs to stop," they said to Michigan Radio.
Some students say they attempted to tell investigators about the alleged ongoing abuses at the gym earlier, but were ignored.
Claire Wozniewski, a former trainee at Twistars, says she spoke to an investigator in 2013 about an incident in which she was head butted by Geddert during a practice, according to Michigan Radio. Similarly, Claire Norman, the former coach who wrote a letter alerting USA Gymnastics to Geddert’s alleged behavior, was stunned to see so little action taking place to stop Geddert.
"The authorities in the community are neither protecting nor empowering these young women,” Norman said, according to Michigan Radio.
Dominique Moceanu, a gymnast who won gold at the 1996 Olympics, said Geddert had even attempted to intimidate her from reporting other abusive practices within the field.
"This was back in 2008. He said I was essentially terrible for the sport and I backstabbed the sport by speaking up. He wrote me a really inappropriate email," Moceanu told Deadspin in 2018, providing screenshots of the communication. "I felt out there all alone. People attacking me left and right, attacking my credibility, my character, my integrity."
Nassar's links to Geddert have now become the subject of considerable scrutiny. Many involved in the gym, including former gymnast Bailey Lorencen, now accuse Geddert of ignoring Nassar's doings.
“There is no excuse for you not knowing what was happening in your gym," Lorencen said to Geddert in court in February 2018, according to The Associated Press. "Except for inexcusable neglect and lack of leadership... I don’t understand why anyone could still want to train (at Twistars), especially knowing that in that back room dungeon, hundreds of your athletes were being molested."
The Eaton County Sheriff's Office opened official investigations into Geddert in early 2018 as the allegedly abusive practices at Twistars were revealed through testimony and impact statements about Nassar, according to the Lansing State Journal. Many of the victims said Nassar's sexual abuse had occurred at Twistars. One unnamed victim told 6 News that Geddert even refused to allow his trainees to see doctors other than Nassar and wouldn't accept notes from other medical professionals.
The investigation into Geddert is still ongoing, according to a spokesperson for the Michigan Attorney General's Office. A timeline for the investigation had not been established and charges have not yet been filed. In February, the Attorney State General decided to take over the investigation, according to the Lansing State Journal. Meanwhile, several lawsuits — including one from State Farm Insurance, according to Insurance Business Magazine — were taken out against Twistars, and Geddert was forced to relinquish ownership of the gym.
Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd reportedly told the parents of victims in a private meeting that although he thinks of Geddert as "a piece of s--t," there simply isn't enough evidence to bring charges, according to Michigan Radio.
USA Gymnastics officially suspended Geddert and has forbidden him from “all contact” with gymnasts in January 2018, according to ESPN. He was also suspended by the U.S. Center for Safe Sport in 2018, according to 6 News.
Geddert has repeatedly declined to comment on several reports about the ongoings at Twistars.
"At The Heart of The Gold" screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and will debut on HBO May 3.
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