Sunday, August 11, 2013

Elite Gymnastics and Family Life: the Karolyis and dominique moceanu

Bela Karolyi : If  Blogspot would let me tattoo "666" on his forehead, I would.

Marta Karolyi : I would add horns except that I lack the means to do so with this program
Last night I read Off Balance: a Memoir by Dominque Moceanu. Moceanu was a member of the 1996 US Olympic gold medal women's gymnastics team. the book was both informative and depressing. Much of what she wrote was subject matter with which I was already familiar, as I wasn't far from the elite level of gymnastics when I performed my legendary back walkover followed by a cartwheel on the upper beam of the roof of our two-story house.  Thus abruptly ended my gymnastics career. Now that I'm eighteen and can no longer be protected from my own idiocy, of which  there is less from which I need to be protected, I might add, I dabble in gymnastics. i took courses in gymnastics and tumbling to fulfill fitness course requirements, and the department head gave me carte blanch to use the gym facilities anytime someone from the staff was legally on duty. 

Some of what I read from Ms. Moceanu's book was mind-boggling, though. I've never liked what I've heard about  Bela and Marta Karolyi, the Romanian couple who escaped the Ceausescu regime to essentially take over gymnastics in the U.S. One thing I find ironic is why the Karolyis ever left Romania when their style of coaching was so perfectly suited to a totalitarian regime in which they had total control over their protegees and could beat them or do whatever they wanted to the young female gymnasts.

As it stood, because Ms. Moceanu was herself the child of Romanian immigrants,  Karolyi could simply ask Ms. Moceanu's father to beat her and he would do so. He, too, was old-school Romanian, and he thought his daughter's chances for success were totally controlled by the Karolyis. He probably would have had all her teeth pulled if Bela or Marta had said that it was necessary for her gymnastics success. 

Marta Karolyi in particular at the present, if I'm correct, still wields more control over the sport of women's gymnastics in the U. S. than does any other single individual.  Why do we let these people immigrate from a totalitarian regime (I believe they came when the Soviet Bloc was still intact, but I don't think Romania is exactly the land of the free and the home of the brave even today) and turn women's gymnastics into a dictatorship? This is America. We don't have to tolerate such nonsense. Relegate the Karolyis to an old folks' home and give them dolls to mistreat instead of allowing them to starve and psychologically abuse real girls, all the while holding the girls' gymnastics careers over their heads.

Dominique Moceanu had a limited-at-best chance at a normal childhood even without the Karolyis' "intervention."  Dominique's father was so accustomed to having is own way and to making the lives of his wife and children miserable if they offered the slightest resistance that Dominique's chances for anything close to idyllic by way of family life were incredibly slim.

As a brief side note, it isn't easy to find picture of the Karolyis with stern expressions. Those who have trained under them will say that they behave one way when cameras are around and another way when there's no one there to record their facial expressions or actions.

I think about myself and gymnastics sometimes. My parents would never have allowed me to live anywhere other than in our family home while I trained,  nor would they have uprooted our family for the benefit of my gymnastics career. Whatever gym was within driving range of our home would have been where I trained as long as it had a reputation for being safe. If I had told my parents anyone  psychologically abused me, that would have been the end of my attendance at that gym, and if I had said I was tired of it, I probably would have been required to finish out the minimum number of hours for the interval that my parents had already paid the tuition, but I then would have been encouraged to quit. (As it stood, when I performed my rooftop gymnastics maneuvers, my parents left several thousand dollars worth of tuition sitting at the gym, unused.)

My childhood would have been different from that of Ms, Moceanu because my parents' style of raising children was so very different. My parents were not from eastern bloc counties.  My mother was not afraid in the least of my father, and they got along well as far as I could tell.  My parents didn't need to live their lives through me or my brother. They had us because they wanted children, not because we were their tickets to  success in life. They'd already had plenty of success in life on their own without needing to draw upon us to provide it for them.

Our home was not a democracy,  and even isn't to this day, although I have  freedom to speak my mind since I've reached the magical age of eighteen.  Prior to my turning eighteen, most things were open for discussion to a point, but once a decision had been made, that was it, and to continue to debate after being told the answer was no would have resulted in negative consequences.

I have a  savings account with money I've earned that's fairly substantial for a person my age who is not a movie star or teen singing sensation because my piano and organ skills commandeered decent wages. There were times when I thought that once a reached a certain age, I was going to do a given thing with my money because it was and is my money.  One thing kept me from ever making that statement to my parents, or still making it. It is my money, but I like the idea of a safety net should something go wrong with my money. My parents have a lot more money than I do.

I used to watch "The Cosby Show" reruns. This particular episode, or clip from it, resonated with me. I know that if I had complained about not being able to use "my money" in the way I so chose, my parents' reaction would have been similar to that of the fictional Huxtable parents.  (So parents out there, TV can be a valuable tool.) Someday my money will be totally up to me to spend; not yet, though.

                                                     realistic TV if you live in my house


  1. I read that book when it first came out. I went through a phase in which I watched a lot of gymnastics, although I've never so much as turned a proper cartwheel myself. The Karolyis are pretty fascinating, though I do agree that their coaching style is abusive. Dominique is not the only one who has said as much; Chelle Stack's mother started a book that was posted on the Web at one point. Joan Ryan also wrote "Little Girls In Pretty Boxes" about gymnastics and figure skating and documented Bela Karolyi's draconian style.

    He definitely has his champions, though. Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comanechi both seem to love him.

    1. Nadia Comanechi does acknowledge the brutality of the krolyi training regime. Mary Lou Retton may have been one of the favored few. Once Dominique Kerri strug and dominque mocenu wer often the only gymnsts at the ranch nd were very close. Moceanu asked Kerri why she (Kerri) was treated better than was Dominique. Kerri Strug said that her own parents had told the Karolyis that they would find another coach and gym if Kerri were not treated better.

      The sad thing is that the Karolyis wouldn't have to ease up all that much for their style to be within the range of acceptsability for high-level sports, even where minors were involved. They probably thought they had already bent so far by not beting the girls as they had done in Romania that they couldn't lighten up any more than they already had and continue to be effective. I think what bugs me most if it's true, and I suspect it is, as Dominique has carved out a nice life for herself, with a loving husband with a promising career a a physician and two beautiful children, that I can't imagine her making it up, was the wasy the Karolyis, Bela especially, played to the cameras. bela acted like a grear big teddy bear in public yet was in reality was so harsh and cold. He seemsso likeable on TV. if I didn'y know what I think it is that I know about im, I would have jumped at the chance to train under him. At least they wouldn't hve had to worry about my weight. even mong gymnasts i was and am naturally thinand bird-like. For me, the issue was keeping on enough eight to build up musculature. they probably would've force fed me foods on my Donner Party list.

      It would be interestng to read a book authored by the Karolyis responding to the charges of those ho made them, although i suspe they'd face major lawsuits, as, at least according to the gymnasts, Bela is creative with the truth, and if he waxed so creatively in the book, there might be sifficient grounds for defamation or libel.

      I just got "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes"
      in the mail Friday. I'll start reading it tomorrow.

      Gymnastics isn't the only sport in which the children - particularly girl -- suffer abuse at the hands of their trainers (with tennis, it's usually the parnts, if anyone, who beat the children), but gymnastics and figure skating seem to be among the worst because the girls become heavily involved and otherwise removed from the world at such young ages, and weight is more of an issue for them than it is for girls in other sports. Even half a pound shows up on a small frame in a leotard. Then you hav the entire issue of using deprivation of nuttrition to slow physical growth and physical maturation,as a larger body and things like breasts get in the way of an otherwise good routine.

      Interesting that Dominique mentioned trying to purg but being unsuccessful at it and, after th fact, feeling fry grateful that she never became a full-blown bulimic. i remember a lot of barfing in the gym among the older girls when i was little, nd i remember a couple of girls with "chronic diarrhea" that always happened on Mondays and was probably a result of laxative overuse.

      The sport is in need of reform.

  2. I think you will find "Little Girls In Pretty Boxes" fascinating. I read that book when it first came out in 1995 and got a copy of the revised edition which had more in it about Dominique Moceanu's decision to divorce her parents. I liked Dominique's book because I also like to read about Romania. Some very interesting films have been made there... I am old enough to remember the Ceausescus and how they were knocked out of power. Of all the Eastern Bloc countries, I think Romania was among the most oppressive... Albania is up there, too.

    I remember when Nadia defected and there was a big article in Life magazine about her. It implied that she was a bulimic, even though the article was written in 1990. The article made her out to be very narcissistic. I'd love to reread it today. She's come a long way since she left Romania and married Bart Conner.

    I have a cousin who used to coach gymnastics. He's really short and squirrely.

    I don't have any gymnastics ability whatsoever. My sport was horsebackriding, which I did fairly well at, but didn't have a lot of natural talent. I was not blessed with athleticism.