Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dominique Moceanu was only 14 when she was part of the women’s team that won Olympic gold in 1996. Now married to former Ohio State gymnast Mike Canales, she gave birth to her first child, Carmen, on Christmas day of 2007.

Still a huge fan favorite, Moceanu has received a lot of press recently because of her comments about the current Olympic selection process. Here's what she had to say about the controversy, and more on what Moceanu, now 26, is up to nowadays.

What do you think of the women’s Olympic team?
The team itself was the right team selected and the girls all deserve very much to be on the team.

You’ve been outspoken about the selection process that chose the team. Could you talk about that a little?
I feel that Martha Karolyi should step down. The Karolyis' nearly 100 percent control needs to come to an end. USA Gymnastics is run very mysteriously, and a lot of gymnasts have been threatened to not speak out, and if they do, there are repercussions and backlash. Yes, I am receiving a little bit of heat for what I've said, but I'm receiving much more support through e-mails and calls and people saying, Thank God that you're speaking out and that somebody is speaking the truth.

I think that we forget that this is the individual coaches like Valeri Liukin and Liang Chow, Peter Zhao and Mihai Brestyan… that they're the principle reason for the success of team USA, not the Karolyi system.

I'm not against the training camps that the women's team has. I think camps are a positive area where the gymnasts get together and see what everyone is doing, bond, form a relationship, and increase camaraderie. I think that's fantastic. But I think that it can be done in a healthier way where someone isn't running a dictatorship and treating people poorly because she's got all the power.

I'm happy with my accomplishments; people are taking some things out of context. I have nothing to be bitter about and I don't have sour grapes. I do believe that the truth has to come out because the Karolyis have worn out their welcome.

I was part of the system in 2000 and 2006. I was there at the camps and witnessed the way people were treated. When you're at the top, Martha Karolyi loves you and treats you a little more kindly, but as soon as you have an injury or something she forgets about you and she moves on.

I think this system is why we're seeing less and less senior elites. A lot of them don't want to be at that level with that kind of treatment and brutality, and they lose the love of the sport. We should not let that happen. We should have girls with healthy experiences that love the sport. And I think that's not the case.

We need a more transparent set of rules. In what other sport do you see the Olympic team selected at someone's backyard with a selected-only audience and selected-only media? Why not pick the Olympic team in front of the 13,000 pumped fans that were in Philadelphia at the Trials? The girls deserve that. I know the girls at one point asked [USA Gymnastics President] Steve Penny to please announce the team, and he said no, Martha doesn't want that. Why does she have so much power?

Do you think the selection process contributes to more injuries?
I don't have that proof, but yes I do think so. When I was at a training camp I witnessed an injury right there. Amanda Castillo had an acute injury on vault, and my husband [a podiatric surgeon] helped diagnose the injury. There was no doctor on staff; nobody there to help her with this injury.

My husband was thinking, "Thank God I was there to help her out." There was a trainer, but the trainer pretty much does whatever Martha Karolyi wants. They don't always look out for the athletes' best interest. And not that doctors can do everything immediately, on the spot, but I think it's another set of eyes to be there.

Once you get to those camps, everyone has to push their girls harder than they would push them at home, to impress Martha. There have been so many injuries at camp that I think are related to this. Obviously, I can't prove it, but I wish we had a database of injuries in place, to help us see what we can to do prevent them, and I wish we had a doctor on staff. I find it so hard to believe that there aren't these two things.

An HBO Real Sports segment last night included an interview with you. How did you feel about the way it turned out?
I felt that the final quote on the HBO show was taken out of context. I said I would put my daughter in gymnastics, but when it came to the elite scene, if she made it there, we would go for the college route. I think it's a healthier route, and that gymnasts have much better experiences in college. They made it seem as though I wouldn't put my daughter in the sport.

In the recent press, I'm very disappointed in what Kim Zmeskal has said. She's had beef with me since I called her out for being an unethical athlete representative two years ago. It's a shame that she can't think for herself. I remember when they abused her too. She was crying on my shoulder when Bela called her fat, put her on the scale, and made her run outside wearing a sweatsuit in the dead heat of summer. That happened in the very gym that the 2008 Olympic selection team camp happened. If she thinks that that's okay -- that that's fair treatment -- that's one thing, but I guarantee 99 percent of people wouldn't think that that's okay behavior.

In general, I think some of my quotes have been taken out of context recently so I'm trying to make sure that I'm clear. I love this sport. Why else would I go against the grain? This is a tough battle. I feel like my old [Olympic] teammates are throwing me under the bus because they don't want to say anything. Most of them didn't train with the Karolyis one on one. I spent most of my younger childhood years from 1992 to 1996 with them, and I know what they're like.

I understand that not everyone had that experience. I reached the Olympic level and am so proud that I represented my country. I'm certainly not against hard work. My goodness I know about sacrifices. I'm the first to say, Yes you need discipline, yes you need to work hard. I encourage that in all the athletes I coach. But at the same time, the poor treatment of athletes can't be justified.

Can you elaborate on some of the abusive training methods you experienced?
I can name a few of them just to scratch the surface. One time, Martha grabbed me by the back of the neck when I collapsed in the gym because of a tibial stress fracture. They didn't believe me for so long, and I was limping, and I collapsed twice before they even realized that I needed help. The second time, she grabbed me and shoved me over to the phone. She told me to call my parents because maybe I should go to a doctor.

In another case, Bela put me on the scale in front of the entire team at the 1995 World Championships. He berated me and belittled me in front of everyone. That kind of treatment is unnecessary. I was 70 pounds!

Would you like to get involved in USA Gymnastics to try to change these aspects of the sport?
That's still to be debated right now. I don't know if I want a position there. I'd love to be involved, but they've never wanted me to be involved. I'd have to be careful with what I get involved in after being so outspoken.

If it became a fair system and was something that was more ethical and something I believed in, then of course, I would love to be a part of that change. USA Gymnastics does not need Bela and Martha Karolyi anymore. The sport will survive, and the success will continue because of these excellent personal coaches.

Do you have similar concerns about the men’s selection process?
I think the men's selection is very similar now to the women's. David Sender -- the 2008 National Champion -- was overlooked; Sean Golden -- with amazing performances -- was overlooked; Raj Bhavsar is devastated right now because he was kept off the team again. How do you justify keeping Raj off the team when you say you've crunched the numbers? Can you show us how you crunched the numbers? What kind of hidden system is being used? What has to be so secretive here?

The athletes know they have to do a good job, but it's difficult because there is this gray area where there is subjective criteria that isn't disclosed. In 1996 we knew we had to be in the top seven, and if you made that you were on the team. It was based on your performance. And we were able to win the Olympics that year.

There should be a rule that explains how specialists are treated and how they can get their chance: they have to win their event or be in the top three -- something like that. I'm not against selection camps 100 percent, I just think that there's a more fair way to do it, and a way to be more respectful to the athletes.

Who are your medal picks for Beijing?
If everyone hits -- which would be a complete miracle -- but if it happens, mathematically, China will win the women's team gold. They have about a 1.7 gain in A score. But not everyone hits. You just never know who will win. I want our team to succeed, of course! I think the USA team is very strong -- as strong as the 1996 Olympic team was -- but you never know until you prove it there.

In the all-around I think Shawn Johnson is the heavy favorite. Shawn and Nastia Liukin could go 1-2. If they let Chellsie Memmel compete all-around on the first day, and she qualifies, who knows? Chellsie could win the whole thing too!

I think Shawn's start values are higher and she's been so solid, that she has a lot going for her too.

What’s it like to be a new mom?
I love it. It's been so rewarding and it's such a different aspect of life: changing diapers, and watching her go through her phases of growing. It's such an exciting time for me.

Are you still in business management school?
Yes. I have nine classes, then I graduate and I'll have my business management degree. Starting up a business might be something I'm interested in. Right now I'm not sure if that's the route I want to go. I have to see with Carmen growing and if we have another child soon. I want to be a stay-at-home mom for awhile, and we'd like to have two or three kids eventually. We'll just see how it goes.

I'm also working on a children's book series for gymnastics right now, and working with some charities on a few projects.

Are you coaching gymnastics?
I haven't been in the gym for awhile because after I delivered Carmen I really wanted to be a great mom. I may go back though.

You ended up getting a legal separation from your father Dumitru when you were age 17. How is your relationship with him now?
I have a very good relationship with him now. My Dad has changed in the last five years. He's been more mellow and he respects me a lot more. The cancer has mellowed him some.

He has a very rare cancer of the lacrimal glands. He had a tumor removed several years ago, and he's been through treatments and radiation. We've been told it's terminal at this point. So we're just making things easier for him and letting him do what he needs to do to feel comfortable. It's tough and it's part of life, and all we can do is support him right now.

How is the rest of your family?
My mother [Camelia] and I have always had a fantastic relationship and if anything, we've gotten closer in my 20s and since I've become a mother. She's always been the rock of our family.

My sister Christina is doing well. She's in college with a volleyball scholarship at Wharton County Junior College. She's all grown up!

What advice would you give the 2008 Olympians?
I would tell them to enjoy every minute of it, because it happens so quickly and it can be so overwhelming. Be proud to represent your country, and don't let anyone take away from that experience. Try to really enjoy it even though it can be difficult at times. No matter what happens, know that you deserve to be there even if you mess up. 

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