Karolyi's retirement plans on hold

Karolyi's retirement plans on hold

Published Jun. 6, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Hold off on that retirement party for Martha Karolyi.

Karolyi said Wednesday she would like to continue as women's national team coordinator rather than step down after the London Olympics as she once planned. Karolyi, who has been in the job since 2001, turns 70 on Aug. 29.

''I have the love of the sport,'' Karolyi said during training at the U.S. gymnastics championships. ''I'm really thinking, if everything is going in the right direction, I would like to continue and contribute to the U.S. success in the future.''

That's just fine with USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny. Though Karolyi and her husband, Bela, have said USA Gymnastics can continue using their ranch outside of Houston as the national team training center, there is no obvious replacement yet for Karolyi. Though she no longer coaches any individual gymnasts, she oversees every aspect of the women's program. Gymnasts and their coaches travel to the ranch each month to be monitored and evaluated by Karolyi and her staff, and it's her opinion that matters most when it comes to picking teams for the Olympics or world championships.


The U.S. team for the London Games will be announced July 1 after the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif.

And it's hard to argue with her results. Since Karolyi took over, the Americans have won 46 world and 13 Olympic medals, far more than any other country. The Americans have won their only three world team titles (2003, 2007 and 2011) under Karolyi, and produced the two Olympic all-around champions in Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin.

''I don't expect anything to change,'' Penny said. ''I feel pretty strongly that she's the right person if she wants to keep doing it.''

Karolyi was once adamant that London would be it for her. But she began hedging last year, particularly after some of the individual coaches asked her to reconsider, and Penny said it's no longer a topic of discussion.

''No one's going anywhere,'' he said. ''We basically turned off the switch on even talking about it.''

But Karolyi said she would like to begin handing off some of her responsibilities. Though most of the focus is on Karolyi's role with the junior and senior national teams, she also has a hand in the development of younger athletes to ensure there's never a dropoff in the U.S. pipeline. Unlike most countries, the Americans have not gone through a major rebuilding period since Karolyi took charge, instead replacing older team members with youngsters that Karolyi has been molding for several years.

At last year's world championships, for example, four of the five Americans were first-year seniors. They left with the team, all-around and vault gold medals, as well as bronzes on balance beam and floor exercise.

''I would like to more narrow it down to the national team and preparation for the big international meets,'' Karolyi said.

Asked if she might change her mind again if the Americans win gold in London, Karolyi smiled. The United States has only won one Olympic team title, by the Magnificent Seven in 1996.

''First of all, I'm never setting colors. I say we're fighting for a place on the podium,'' said Karolyi, who was head coach of that Atlanta squad. ''But that really would not have an influence on my decision.''