I’ve had a love-hate relationship with gymnastics. I remember getting lessons as a three-to-five year old in Glendale, and watching it pretty religiously (both men’s and women’s) in the Olympics up until Sydney in 2000, maybe it was Athens in 2004. I admire the sport due to the total body strength necessary to participate, but it literally did start to creep me out when I’d see women into their early 20s that looked like 12 year olds. (I know and work with people who are on the shorter end of five feet, and at least they are proportioned.)
Ever since then I’ve not been able to watch it (or its Winter Olympic cousin, figure skating) without feeling a twinge odd. Stories like former gold medalist Dominique Moceanu accusing both Bela and Martha Karolyi of abusing her (Bela verbally, Martha physically), written in the L.A. Times today and corresponding with an upcoming HBO report, don’t do a whole lot to help that, and that’s me saying this while taking into account that Moceanu’s accusations appear to be the only sort of their kind (and the Karolyis understandably deny them.)
“I never, ever objected to hard work,” Moceanu said.
“What I objected to was Martha grabbing me by the neck, shoving my face into the phone and telling me to call my parents when I hurt my neck in practice. I objected to being told to jump onto a scale in front of the 1995 world championship team, of being forced to do 16 uneven bars routines in a row by Martha.
“I was completely embarrassed by Bela in front of the 2000 national training team at camp. He completely belittled me and my weight, singled me out and made me feel very small. It was unfair treatment. Martha’s logic is so false but no one would listen to a 14-year-old. I was never allowed to speak out.”
This is the second article in the Times in the past week surrounding the Karolyis and how Martha currently runs the U.S. women’s gymnastics program (and how Bela has run it in the past): Kim Warren, ne Kelly back in 1992, recently spoke about being left off the team despite finishing sixth and qualifying in the Olympic trials.
Generally, these are the type of stories that drive people away from sports where judging is required rather than an actual objective finish to see who won. Every four years, the nation has a love affair with the latest group of pixies to work on the balance beam and uneven bars, and it just never gets any less confusing.