Former Olympic athletes call for more protections against predator coaches

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Former Olympic and elite athletes are speaking out about sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Team USA coaches and mentors in hopes Congress will pass new legislation aimed at making the coaches and the sports organizing bodies, including the US Olympic Committee, more accountable.

The group is advocating for a bill championed by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that would extend the statute of limitations regarding claims of abuse against children and mandate reporting within 25 hours for all coaches, trainers or members of any sports organizing body, like the US Olympic Committee.

The athletes credit the dozens of gymnasts that spoke out during the trial of US Gymnastics team trainer Larry Nassar with illuminating the problem of abuse by coaches against young, elite athletes.

They shared their stories during a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Bridie Farrell was a 15-year-old speed skater with hopes of making Team USA when the abuse started at the hands of her 33-year-old mentor and teammate.

“No one listened to us for so long,” said Farrell, who is from Saratoga Springs, NY. “It’s the hardest thing to say but I was molested countless times, hundreds of times.”

Farrell says the abuser was one of the top competitors in her sport that became the head of US Speed Skating years later.

At 15, Marcia Frederick was America’s first world champion gymnast. A year later the abuse started at the hands of her coach as she was on her way to being named to Team USA for the 1980 games. She says once President Jimmy Carter announced the boycott of the Moscow Games, she decided to speak out about the abuse.

“I came forward about my experience to the people I loved and trusted and had authority over me,” said Frederick, who is a member of the National and Connecticut Gymnastics Halls of Fame. “I was 17 years old and I was met with silence and inaction.”

Debra Denithorne Grodensky was an 11-year-old swimming phenom when a coach for US Swimming convinced her parents to allow him to take her under his wings. She says he began grooming her to compete at the highest level. She says he also groomed her to perform sex acts whenever she was alone with him.

She says it started with giving her rides to and from practice eventually leading to overnight trips in hotels at competitions. 

“It was constant and I can’t even number how many incidents,” Denithorne Grodensky said. “I was at every opportunity.”

The women stressed that it’s not only young girls suffering abuse at the hands of well-known and respected coaches and trainer.

Craig Maurizi was a member of US Figure Skating and has coached several Olympic athletes. He says he was abused and reported it in 1980, but no one listened.

“I reported it to my sport governing body, US Figure Skating Association, nearly 20 years ago,” said Maurizi. “My abuser was suspended from coaching less than two months ago.

Blumenthal says dozens of coaches are accused of abusing hundreds of elite athletes. He says the legislation would be a strong message that the abuse and cover-ups need to stop.

“They rightly were apprehensive that complaining would lead to retaliation sacrificing their opportunity to compete for the United States of America,” said Blumenthal.

The former athletes want parents to know the potential signs of abuse by coaches or mentors. The top one being excessive amounts of time being spent alone with the child.  They say parents need to ask questions as most children will not come forward on their own about being abused.

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