Wednesday, May 25, 2005

After a five-year absence from competitive gymnastics, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu announced she is planning to compete at this year’s US Classic. Moceanu, 23, was a member of the first-ever U.S. gold medal women’s gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympic games and was the 1998 Goodwill Games all-around gold medalist. After a knee injury in 2000, which ended Moceanu’s run for a second Olympics, she all but quit the sport. In November 2004, Moceanu began training seriously under the direction of coach and boyfriend Michael Canales, a former Ohio State gymnast. Inside Gymnastics spoke to Moceanu about her illustrious past, her present training and her hopes for the future. Part of our conversation appears here and more on Moceanu will be featured in the July / August issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine.

Inside Gymnastics : You have been out of competitive gymnastics for five years, what sparked your interest to make a comeback?
Dominique Moceanu: My interest probably started somewhere in Athens. It’s been fueled by a lot of things. I was able to travel to Athens with my mom through Sports Illustrated. I was inspired by the Olympic spirit. I believed that I could still be out there competing. Then there was the post-Olympic tour. It got me motivated. I approached my boyfriend [Michael Canales]. Since then we have been setting bi-weekly goals. [We] experienced some adversity in the beginning. (Dominique suffered a severe sprain to her left ankle that initially tested her motivation.)

Inside: What are your hopes for the US Classic and what are your thoughts further down the road such as US Nationals, National Team Training Camps and possibly the World Championships?
Dominique: First off I want to stay healthy and give a strong showing at Classic and Nationals. I’m still a full-time student, my goal in the fall is to continue to do well in school and receive another 4.0 [G.P.A]. I’m not looking too far into the future yet, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I don’t want to have unrealistic expectations. And do the best that I can. I don’t have anything to prove, I’ve done everything I wanted to do in the sport. I want to have fun, be a good role model, and show girls you can go to school and train, you can multi-task and still be successful.

Inside: When did you seriously start considering training again? Did you speak to people about your thoughts? How did they help you in your decision?
Dominique: [I started training seriously again] last November after the post-Olympic tour. Mike and I decided to keep it quiet, because it was important to me to prove it to myself first. A lot of people say they want to do this or that. I didn’t want to speak about it and not do it. When I felt ready, then I thought it would be appropriate at this time. Never did I think I would be competing in 2005, the progress of my workouts motivated me and I just kept progressing and progressing. We figured it was time to say something.

Inside: How did it feel being in the gym full time again? Overall, how has training been going?
Dominique: After the post-Olympic tour in 2000, I stopped gymnastics completely. I didn’t do anything for a long time until last year. I started training a little before the Olympics. I knew I had to lose some weight to handle the tour. I [found out] that there would be a post-Olympic tour and I wanted to be a part of that. I started getting in shape for the tour, went on tour and then I came back. Then of course there is always work along the way, you have to take it one step at a time. Training has been going very well. I just got back from the Nadia Comaneci Invitational. I had a strong showing on my floor routine. I feel like I'm at a great place right now, and I'm so happy. I didn’t sacrifice my education to do this. I continued to train, coach and travel and do clinics and I added in elite level training to my life.

Inside: What are you focusing on now during training? What events and skills are you hoping to perform at Classic?
Dominique: I’m focusing on a couple events – vaulting and floor exercise. I’m working on several different things. At this time, we’re not ready to release that information. [There are] many things that I’m playing with. [There are] not any concrete skills that I can mention, besides that I will be doing a full in on floor, a 2 ½ twisting combination pass. But nothing is concrete right now. On vault, a front handspring [type] vault and a round-off entry vault. Those are the two I’m working on right now, what I’m doing out of those will be decided later.

Inside: Where are you training currently and where do you plan to train in the future? Do you pretty much know what you need to do to prepare yourself or is someone there helping you prepare?
Dominique: [I’m training at] Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights, Ohio where I coach. I’ll be training at Woodward East all summer. They have agreed to sponsor me. They are my main sponsor. They have been wonderful in helping me achieve this goal. They have done everything to make it easier on me. I’m very thankful to have them in my life.

Inside: How is the relationship between you and Mike, with him as your boyfriend and your coach?
Dominique: Clearly, my relationship with Mike is multi-faceted! As a coach, he has a very comprehensive approach. He includes sports psychology and he’s a tremendous motivator. He understands me, and he knows how to get me motivated and train me appropriately. He’s a physician and he can take care of my physical ailments. Sometimes coaches push their athletes until they break. It’s been refreshing [to have] Mike be understanding of that. We take it easy when something aches too much. I have more of an input in my workouts and we [relate] better. I am older, and I don’t need numerous amounts of repetitions - my body has done it so many times. I know mentally how to prepare myself for competitions. Mike does the daily and bi-weekly goals and we are always thinking constantly of what we need to do.

Inside: Talk about the knee injury you had in 2000 that ended your run for a second Olympics... How did you sustain it and what exactly did you go through? Are there still problems with the injury and how is your body holding up health wise?
Dominique: There was a [large] bone chip floating around in my knee. [It caused my knee to] lock out. It happened the first day of the [2000] Olympic trials workout. I felt it in my dismount. I’m sure it was out there floating for a while, but it didn’t surface. It surfaced on a few of my bar landings. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t jump. It was an unfortunate injury. But I was actually more worried about my ligament tear in my shoulder. I let it heal though. I had two surgeries – one for my knee and one for my shoulder. It was allowed to heal. Sometimes we don’t have the patience to heal in gymnastics. You have to be smart about those situations. You have to train the healthy parts and you have to let the body rest when it’s time to rest.

Inside: What do you think of the status of the US Women’s Team currently? What do you feel you can contribute to the team?
Dominique: I feel I can contribute on the weak areas which are vault and floor. We have a lot of good bar and beam workers. This is why I choose these two events - I can help them with my artistry. I can bring back the artistry I have. I am also adding a different dimension, and evolving in my gymnastics. I’m focusing on the little details.

Inside: You have been coaching at Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights, Ohio and you coach at training camps throughout the summer, including permanently at Woodward Camp in Pennsylvania. What is your coaching philosophy and style? What is most rewarding about coaching for you?
Dominique: ...It’s not always the medal you bring home, it’s making an impact on their lives. For them to look back and remember me, that to me is more valuable than anything. A lot of them went to a college-bound meet [recently], and they were the talk of the meet! They just came back yesterday and colleges are actually looking at them. That’s what I always try to stress upon them – ‘this is the way to get to college and do the sport you love. And you can do it for free. That’s a no-brainer!’ A lot of them don’t have that money. They would never have that opportunity to go.

Inside: Have you spoke to former coaches about your comeback? Is there anything they have said to you?
Dominique: [I have spoken to] Martha Karolyi. First of all, I knew I wanted to have her blessing. I wanted to make sure everything was good. She was optimistic and I was excited she was optimistic! 

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