Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu no longer has a relationship with former coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, and wishes USA Gymnastics didn’t, either.
In her memoir, ”Off Balance,” Moceanu repeats criticisms of the Karolyis and their training methods that she first made four years ago. She told The Associated Press that she thinks Martha Karolyi should be removed from her role as national team coordinator.
”She’s the maker or breaker of people’s Olympic dreams,” Moceanu said. ”She holds unchecked power. The governing body has handed it to them.”
The Karolyis retired from coaching after Moceanu and her teammates won the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996. Martha Karolyi has overseen the U.S. women’s team since 2001, and the couple’s ranch outside Houston is the site of monthly training camps for the national team. The U.S. has won a whopping 59 medals in international competition under Martha Karolyi’s guidance, including its third team title at the world championships last year, and is the favorite to capture gold in London later this summer.
Moceanu made similar assertions before the Beijing Olympics four years ago, insisting in an interview with HBO’s ”Real Sports” in 2008 that other gymnasts have concerns about the Karolyis. No other gymnasts, including her former teammates, have corroborated her accusations of mental abuse and diet restrictions.
In fact, many have come to the defense of Martha Karolyi and the U.S. program.
”It’s brutal, it’s hard,” four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson, who retired this month, said in reference to the training camps. ”It’s some of the hardest days of our lives, but it’s that time that we really get to bond with our teammates and hone in our skills and get to work with the world’s best.”
USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny added the organization ”responded with assistance during some of Dominique’s tougher moments, as did the Karolyis and other elite coaches.”
Moceanu retired in 2006 when her petition to compete in the national championships was denied. She insists her exclusion from the competition did not spur her to assail the Karolyis. She says she began the book, which was released this week, in 2005 but needed seven years to put her life and career in perspective.
”It was a catalyst, but I was already doing it,” she said. ”That wasn’t the deciding and motivating factor.”
In her book, Moceanu, now 30, claims that the Karolyis created a toxic environment that made training under them difficult, and left her with issues that took years to sort out. Moceanu writes that she felt ”hopeless and alone” while training at the couple’s ranch in Texas in the 1990s, saying the Karolyis made her feel ”fat” despite weighing just 70 pounds at age 14. Bela Karolyi once put her on a scale in front of the rest of the 1995 world team, she wrote, humiliating her.
”This warped body image would haunt me for years to come,” Moceanu writes.
And she fears a new generation will have similar scars.
”There are a lot of things that are going on in our sport that people may not know about,” Moceanu said.
Moceanu believes too much praise is being lavished on the Karoylis, saying the influx of coaches from Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union have more to do with the country’s domination in the sport over the last decade.
”I find it fascinating that they are being the ones credited about the success of Team USA,” she said.