Those controversial Moceanu statements

A very young Dominique Moceanu.

Paul Hamm isn’t the only one saying controversial stuff as The Olympic Games approach.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu called for Bela and Martha Karolyi to be shown off the U.S. Team selection process.

Former U.S. Olympian Dominique Moceanu, who at 14 was part of the 1996 gold-medal team, said Tuesday night that USA Gymnastics team coordinator Martha Karolyi once grabbed her by the neck and slammed her face into a phone, and that former coach Bela Karolyi twice berated her about her weight in front of national teammates.

Moceanu, in a telephone interview with The Times, expanded on comments she made on an “HBO Real Sports” report that first aired Tuesday night in which she called for the Karolyis to be removed from their positions with the national team.

But other gymnasts who have been coached by the Karolyis or who were on the 1996 team with Moceanu said they hadn’t seen the abuse Moceanu said she suffered.

As a former Olympic gymnast and oft-tapped spokesperson for the sport, Moceanu oscillates between positive and negative statements. In 1998, she filed for emancipation from her parents, saying her father forced her to train and tried to control the money she made from endorsements and post-Olympic touring. In 2006, she tried to qualify for the U.S. Championships and attended a camp at the Karolyi ranch, where she reportedly did poorly. She and husband/coach Mike Canales appealed to USA Gymnastics to grant her a berth to the 2006 U.S. Championships. The appeal was denied.

These stories about the Karolyis, 12 years after her Olympic success, seem to have surprised a lot of people.

Kim Zmeskal Burdette, who was coached by Bela Karolyi when she won the 1991 all-around world championship and was a member of the 1992 Olympic team, said she was surprised by Moceanu’s comments.

“I don’t know where she’s coming from,” Zmeskal Burdette said. “From my personal experience, she’s coming from a different planet. It’s a difficult process and there are a lot of pieces to becoming the very best in the world.

“It’s not a walk in the park. Bela was always very clear that if you want these results you put in this kind of work.”

Martha’s response was brief.

Martha Karolyi, speaking on a conference call Tuesday morning, said, “I feel sad that a gymnast so accomplished as Dominique, being a part of the 1996 Olympic team and being the individual medalist in the 1995 world championships, can remember the harder days during the preparation. I feel sad.”

So who to believe? There’s no doubt that the Karolyis employed rather old-world methods when training youngsters, or that the pressure at selection camps is tremendous, or that three full-length competitions within two months of an Olympic Games is an incredibly taxing experience.

Many former Karolyi proteges, particularly the ones who didn’t make the coveted Olympic team, have spoken negatively about their time on the ranch. But others, including Zmeskal and Mary Lou Retton, who once told a reporter “You don’t hear many complaints from the winners,” have been staunch defenders of the Karolyi method.

I lean towards the idea that Moceanu is using the Olympics as a platform for a personal grudge, much the same way 1986 U.S. Champion Jennifer Sey seemed to with her book Chalked Up, an assault on Parkette coaches Bill and Donna Strauss.

The U.S. has done incredibly well with Martha Karolyi as National Team Coordinator, and stands to do extremely well in Beijing. That’s an accomplishment for the girls and their personal coaches, not just M. Karolyi. Thing is, nobody’s saying otherwise.

Another perspective: Moceanu addresses her comments in an interview on About.com: Gymnastics.

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2 Responses to “Those controversial Moceanu statements”

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