american gymnasts
American gymnasts Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Sara Klein arrive for the 2018 ESPYS at Microsoft TheatreReuters

More than 100 survivors who went public with horrifying stories of abuse by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar appeared on stage together to accept an award for courage on Wednesday at the 2018 ESPY Awards.

Members of the group held hands, exchanged hugs and smiled proudly as they filled the stage at the glitzy ceremony in downtown Los Angeles.

Gymnast Sarah Klein, who is the first known victim of Nassar, said:

Make no mistake. We are here on this stage to present an image for the world to see - a portrait of survival, a new vision of courage.

Klein, softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman stood in front of the group of 141 survivors and spoke on behalf of the group to receive the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, an annual honor named after the late US tennis star and presented to people who make an impact beyond the playing field.

Raisman recounted the years that girls and women complained about Larry Nassar while he served as a team doctor for USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University.

"1997. 1998. 1999. 2000. 2004. 2011. 2013. 2014. 2015," she said. "All those years we were told 'you are wrong, you misunderstood.' "

"We persisted and finally someone listened and believed us," she said as some audience members teared up.

larry nassar
Larry NassarReuters

Nassar pleaded guilty in November 2017 to molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment in incidents dating back to the 1990s. The court trial, which gained global attention, ended with Nassar being sentenced to life in prison.

The USA Gymnastics doctor sexually exploited more than 260 women and girls, including several Olympic gold medalists. Nearly 200 of them gave emotional testimonies during sentencing hearings in Michigan earlier this year.

The ESPYs are presented annually by Walt Disney Co sports network ESPN. The awards are meant to honour to the leading sports performers and performances of the year.

The 2018 ESPYs also paid tribute to three other coaches - Aaron Feis, Scott Beigel, and Chris Hixon - who were killed in February during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.