For years, Marvin Sharp’s success shielded him from scrutiny.
He was a 49-year-old bachelor who lived by himself; a 49-year-old bachelor whose hobbies allegedly were photographing young children in tight, skimpy clothes and compromising positions, or giving them private sports massages.
But this 49-year-old bachelor also happened to be one of the best gymnastics coaches in the country. He had mentored two Olympians, guiding one girl from obscurity to a silver medal in Beijing. For hundreds of local parents, his training sessions were their child’s ticket to an elite echelon of athletics.
If the warning signs were there, then they were dimmed by the sheer demand for his services.
And so it was that parents kept dropping off their children for two-hour behind-closed-doors sessions at Sharp’s Gymnastics Academy in Indianapolis, entrusting the coach with kids as young as 2 years old despite what one gymnast called consistently “creepy” behavior.
The blinding glare of Olympic glory couldn’t last forever, however, and on Aug. 23, Sharp’s secret life tumbled awkwardly into the spotlight.
That was the day city and state police pulled Sharp from his bachelor’s pad in handcuffs, seized thousands of files of child pornography and charged the gymnastics coach with child pornography, child molesting and sexual misconduct with a minor.
Parents pulled their kids en masse from the academy, saying the news of Sharp’s arrest made them “sick.”
On Saturday, the sick situation came to a sudden end when officials found Sharp dead inside his Marion County Jail cell. The Associated Press called the death “an apparent suicide,” reporting that jail officials did not suspect foul play but would not provide a cause of death.[Top U.S. gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp arrested on suspicion of child molestation]
“A follow-up investigation is being conducted by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Marion County Coroner’s Office,” Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Katie Carlson said.
Like one of his gymnasts tumbling after a flawless routine, Sharp’s apparent suicide provided a quick and spectacular end to a successful career.
According to his Web site, Sharp launched his own gymnastics academy in 2001 after a falling out with his previous boss. At first, Sharp’s upstart academy was housed in the corner of an Indianapolis warehouse.
“We have established a positive ‘happy’ training environment where we teach strong gymnastics fundamentals and progression,” he wrote on his Web site. “If you are not training at Sharp’s Gymnastics, you should be!”
That message gradually caught on, especially as Sharp guided several Indianapolis girls to the peak of international athletics.
Bridget Sloan was the best known of his pupils. Under Sharp’s tutelage, the pint-sized gymnast rose to the top of the sport. In 2008, Sloan was a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team that won a silver medal in Beijing. Sharp went with her to China, and continued to coach her after the Olympics. He soon signed up one of her Olympic teammates: fellow Indianapolis native Samantha Peszek.
Sharp’s own career peaked in 2010, when he was named USA Gymnastics 2010 Coach of the Year. A year later, he moved his academy from the warehouse to a brand new, $1 million facility a mile away, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Sharp’s Olympic credentials — advertised prominently on his Web site — helped to pull in clients.
But Sharp’s gleaming new gymnasium allegedly hid some dirty secrets.