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Marta, Bela Karolyi say 'no way' they knew about Larry Nassar

NEW YORK -- Former USA Gymnastics women's national team coordinator Marta Karolyi and her husband, Bela, said they were unaware of the sexual abuse by former national team doctor Larry Nassar, who is now serving decades in prison.

Marta Karolyi led the national team for 15 years before retiring after the 2016 Rio Olympics. She told NBC's Savannah Guthrie that in "no way" did she suspect Nassar was sexually abusing athletes.

"The whole gymnastics community couldn't recognize this," Marta Karolyi said in an excerpt provided to The Associated Press on Friday by NBC. "Everybody said, 'Larry Nassar is a good doctor. Larry Nassar is a good guy.' "

Nassar spent nearly three decades at USA Gymnastics before being fired in 2015 after complaints about his behavior. He continued to work at Michigan State University through the fall of 2016 before being hit with federal charges. Nassar is now serving decades in prison for molesting women and girls and for possessing child pornography.

"I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in the therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this -- and the parent couldn't see," Marta said. "How could I see?"

The Karolyis spoke as part of a "Dateline NBC" special scheduled to air Sunday. It takes a look at the fallout from revelations about years of abuse by Nassar against hundreds of former athletes, including several members of the U.S. Olympic team.

"The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding," Bela said.

The Karolyis have been named as co-defendants in several civil lawsuits filed against Nassar and USA Gymnastics. Several victims, including two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney, say they were abused at the Karolyi Ranch near Houston. The ranch served as the training home for USA Gymnastics during most of Marta's tenure running the national team.

"That's awful, but I would say even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who was violated by Nassar, it's a crime and it's so sad," Marta said.

Several gymnasts and coaches previously interviewed by The Associated Press said the Karolyis institutionalized a win-at-all-costs culture that forced girls to train while injured. The toxic environment allowed Nassar to flourish in part because the athletes were afraid to challenge authority, according to witness statements in Nassar's criminal case and one of the lawsuits.

Mattie Larson, a gymnast on the 2010 World Championship team, watched an excerpt of the interview and said: "I feel like if they really didn't know, it's because they set up the system to show they don't care what's going on."

Larson pointed out the Karolyis allowed Nassar to treat them in his hotel room without supervision and that it wasn't unusual for Nassar to treat athletes not on a training table, but on his hotel bed.

"Honestly I just believe they did not care about us when we were not in the gym,'' Larson said.

Guthrie spent hours with the Karolyis at the ranch after the couple agreed to speak publicly for the first time since Marta's retirement following the 2016 Olympics.

"They answered every question," Guthrie told The Associated Press. "At no time did their lawyer jump in and say 'You can't answer that.' "

The Associated Press contributed to this report.