"He wouldn't let us talk to the girls"

Witnesses corroborate accusations of sexual abuse against gymnastics coach

Jesús Carballo and Gloria Viseras during a competition in the late 1970s.
Jesús Carballo and Gloria Viseras during a competition in the late 1970s.

Spanish national gymnastics coach Jesús Carballo was removed from his post with the female team in January this year after Gloria Viseras, an Olympian at the 1980 Moscow Games filed a complaint of sexual abuse when she was a minor under his tutelage. The police subsequently stated that Viseras's accusation was entirely founded. The case is pending in a Madrid court following an appeal by Viseras and the CSD Higher Sports Council against a lower court ruling that the statute of limitations had expired on the alleged offenses.

Carballo, who headed the coaching staff of the team for 30 years, denies the allegations but several witnesses have corroborated Viseras's version of events. The most recent to do so, Toni Llorens, was an up-and-coming coach at the time of the alleged abuse who had promising gymnasts he hoped would make the national team. In 1979 he attended a training camp in Gijón at which Carballo's charges were present, including Viseras. "When Gloria fell on the spring floor [a raised mat that provides bounce for artistic routines] he also allowed himself to fall and didn't hurry to get up," Llorens, who today is not involved with gymnastics, told EL PAÍS via telephone. "One day I saw Carballo touch her breast and kiss her on the neck. I couldn't believe it."

Llorens is not the only direct witness to the abuses allegedly suffered by Viseras when she was aged between 12 and 15 and took place in training sessions, hotels during competition and also in Carballo's car, according to Viseras's testimony. Iren Martínez, an Olympic gymnast in Moscow and in Los Angeles four years later, told police that she was in the room she shared with Viseras ahead of the 1980 Games when Carballo allegedly sexually assaulted her colleague. Martínez also stated that Carballo had attempted to take liberties with her. A third gymnast contacted the police with a similar accusation days after Viseras told her story to EL PAÍS.

I saw Carballo touch her breast and kiss her on the neck; I couldn't believe it"

Although the complaint has taken 30 years to materialize, Llorens and several former national team gymnasts in the years after the Los Angeles Games have said they alerted the Spanish Gymnastics Federation to their fears, but nothing came of it. "I mentioned it to various coaches and when I went to Madrid I told two of the federation's directors that I didn't think the dependence the girls had on Carballo was normal," says Llorens. "They hit the roof and didn't do anything about it."

"There were many rumors circulating then," recalls Elisa Estapé, also a coach at the time. "I was asked if I had seen anything strange and I defended Carballo to the hilt. I was 23 years old..."

Other witnesses, though, do recall out-of-the-ordinary events, such as nighttime hotel room visits, massages with the young girls naked from the waist up - in those days no physios or doctors were attached to the team - and Carballo's students fighting for his attention or to sit in the passenger seat of his car.

More than 70 former gymnasts have signed a letter of support for Carballo

Most witnesses describe a very insular group dominated by Carballo: "He wouldn't let us talk [to the girls]," says a former male gymnast who preferred to remain anonymous. "When they walked past us they would look at the floor."

Marisol del Hierro, who joined the team in 1981 and was a reserve in Los Angeles, harbors very different memories. Del Hierro says she never saw any bad treatment, "let alone sexual abuse or anything that made us suspect anything of the sort."

Del Hierro and more than 70 former gymnasts have signed a letter of support for Carballo, 69, who is married to a former charge, now the national team coach, and whose son is the federation president. The case against Carballo is stalled until the court decision, but could be reopened if more recent allegations come to light. Under Spanish law, the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse against minors runs out 20 years after the victim reaches adulthood.

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