Nassar defender's hiring stuns gymnast abuse victims

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Larry Nassar sits in court listening to statements before being sentenced on sexual assault charges in 2018

Victims of jailed former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar lashed out after a coach who had initially defended the jailed predator was appointed to a senior role with the sport's governing body.

Mary Lee Tracy was named as the new elite development coordinator late Tuesday by USA Gymnastics, which has been heavily criticized over its handling of the Nassar affair.

But Tracy's appointment was greeted with disgust by victims of Nassar, who was jailed for life earlier this year after abusing more than 250 athletes including several stars of the USA's Olympic gold medal-winning squads.

Critics pointed to Tracy's public defense of Nassar in December 2016, when the doctor was already facing allegations of abuse by more than 50 girls and women.

"My Olympians have all worked with Larry,” Tracy said at the time. "He has protected them, taken care of them, worked with me and worked with their parents. He's been amazing."

Aly Raisman, a member of the US 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medal teams who was among Nassar's victims, lambasted Tracy's appointment.

"USA Gymnastics has appointed someone who, in my view, supported Nassar, victim-shamed survivors, & has shown no willingness to learn from the past," Raisman tweeted.

"This is a slap in the face for survivors, & further confirmation that nothing @USAG has changed. What a profound disappointment!"

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, also tweeted her digust, noting Tracy's defense of Nassar came after he was indicted for abuse and found with thousands of images of child pornography.

"After all that, she still said it wasn't true, he was 'amazing' USAG just put an enabler in charge again," she tweeted.

- 'I was fooled' -

In a post on Twitter, Tracy said she had been duped by Nassar.

"I am truly sorry for what the survivors have gone through, I cannot even imagine the pain," she wrote. "I was fooled too! My hope is to create the safest learning environment for athletes and coaches of the future."

Meanwhile, former Michigan State University gymnastics coach Kathie Klages on Thursday denied two counts she had lied to police about being made aware of Nassar's crimes prior to 2016.

Gymnast Larissa Boyce, at the time a teen in the school's youth gymnastics program, said she told Klages of Nassar's abuse in 1997 but nothing was done to stop him.

"Witnesses have said that they reported Nassar's sexual abuse to Klages dating back more than 20 years," the Michigan Attorney General's office said in a statement.

In a separate development, an NCAA letter sent to Michigan State was made public that cleared the college of rule violations in the wake of Nassar's abuse while serving as a sports medicine doctor for the university.

NCAA vice president of enforcement Jonathan Duncan wrote, "it does not appear there is a need for further inquiry" after seeking rule violations, even though several other probes into Nassar's actions remain ongoing.

"In regards to the crimes committed on our campus by Larry Nassar, the NCAA findings do not change a thing," MSU athletic director Bill Beekman said. "While we agree with the NCAA that we did not commit a violation, that does not diminish our commitment to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student athletes."

The finding outraged many, including John Manly, an attorney for more than 100 women who accused Nassar of sexual abuse.

"The NCAA never spoke to any survivor. They never spoke to prosecutors or the police. So what kind of investigation did they do??" Manly tweeted. "If a university's coaches/officials knowingly conceal a molester & that doesn't violate its rules then the NCAA needs to go."