Days after USA Gymnastics' suspension, coach John Geddert says he's retiring

LANSING, Mich. -- Days after he was suspended by USA Gymnastics, prominent youth coach John Geddert told members of his gym he plans to retire.

Geddert emailed the gymnasts at Twistars -- the gym he owns in Dimondale, Michigan -- and their families Tuesday morning that he has been scaling back with plans to retire, according to a message obtained by the Lansing State Journal. He said in the email that he has recently taken a backseat as coach as "part of my exit strategy to retire at 60."

"Well 60 has arrived," he wrote.

Geddert worked side by side with convicted serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar in Michigan for much of the past quarter-century. They rose to prominence in the sport together -- Nassar as the national medical coordinator of USA Gymnastics and Geddert as the head coach of the 2012 Olympic gold-medal team and one of the most decorated gymnastics coaches in the country.

Dozens of women who spoke to ESPN's Outside The Lines or testified during a sentencing hearing for Nassar during the past week have said that Geddert's abusive coaching style created an opportunity for Nassar to prey on young women for years.

Makayla Thrush, a former Twistars gymnast who spoke in court Tuesday, said Geddert physically and verbally abused her during her time at Twistars. She said her career in the sport ended when Geddert threw her off of a low bar apparatus, which tore her stomach muscles and ended her gymnastics career.

"You told me to kill myself not just once, but many other times," Thrush said. "After you ended my career, I tried."

Geddert was suspended on Friday, with USA Gymnastics announcing the ban on Monday.

Geddert's coaching style has largely been based on fear and intimidation, according to dozens of people who spoke with Outside the Lines over the past year, a group that includes current and former gymnasts, parents of gymnasts, coaches who have worked alongside Geddert, and other gym employees. Many of those contacted said they were reluctant to speak publicly about Geddert because they either have children involved in gymnastics in the Lansing area or careers in the sport, and they are mindful of the power he wields.

In the hypercompetitive environment in which the fiery head coach lorded over the gym, Nassar's training room at Great Lakes offered an escape, former gymnasts told Outside the Lines. It was tucked behind the vault and balance beam, through a heavy metal door with a single small window that Nassar often covered with a sheet while treating gymnasts. A parent would have had to walk across the entire workout floor to get to the training room, and few ever did.

"John and Larry were like this perfect storm," said a former office manager of Geddert's at Twistars, Priscilla Kintigh, who was coached by Geddert at Great Lakes in the mid-1980s and whose son trained at Twistars. "You become so unapproachable that your own gymnasts don't feel comfortable telling you what's going on. There's no way any of the girls would have felt comfortable saying anything to John [about Larry]. Kids were terrified of him."

Amanda Smith, who trained at Twistars starting at age 9 in the early 2000s, gave an impact statement in court on Monday morning during Nassar's sentencing that detailed some of Geddert's behavior.

In an interview outside of the courtroom, Smith said she watched Geddert regularly shove and berate girls in the gym, punishing them for failures in courage by forcing them to do hours of physical conditioning. Twistars' work with male gymnasts was being phased out in the early 2000s, which left the boys' locker room empty most days. Smith said it became the place where Geddert pulled gymnasts aside to verbally abuse them.

"That was a daily thing," Smith said. "It was like Dr. Nassar had the back room, and [Geddert] had the locker room. We were terrified to go in there. Even if you didn't know what happened in there, it was very clear when girls came out and were hyperventilating because they were so scared."

In the letter, Geddert said he's disappointed in what he called false allegations by USA Gymnastics in suspending him.

"At a time when we should only be paying attention to the courageous young women who have demonstrated their commitment to the truth, the governing body of our sport is doing everything to upstage their victim statements. I can't express in words the anger, frustration and sense of helplessness we feel with regards to the Nassar criminal cases now going on in court," the letter read. "Our hearts ache for the victims as they deal with this unthinkable situation. Our relative silence should not be construed as a lack of caring as nothing could be farther from the truth. These young women have our support, always have and always will.

"I know I'm not perfect. Like all of our coaches, I am deeply committed to protecting the safety and well-being of our students. I know my shortcomings as a coach: I have high expectations and high standards and I am passionate about coaching our gymnasts to realize their full potential. Sometimes the intensity is challenging -- both for our gymnasts and their coaches. We have worked hard here at Twistars to make sure safety and the overall well-being of our athletes is our No. 1 priority. In fact, we were among the first members to certify all of our competitive team staff with Safe Sport.

"We will fight these allegations at the appropriate time and place - but at this point in time, anything we do will distract and detract from the victims' statements at the Nassar sentencing hearing before [Ingham County Circuit] Judge [Rosemarie] Aquilina."

ESPN's John Barr contributed to this report.

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