Dominique Moceanu captured the hearts of countless Americans during the 1996 Summer Olympics, helping the USA women’s gymnastics team to a gold medal in Atlanta.
Now, however, she is speaking out against the culture of abuse that has allegedly marred USA Gymnastics for decades.
“Well, there was a culture at the national team training camp of fear and abuse,” Moceanu said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “And just the fear of ever stepping forward because if you step forward, you get ostracized or you say something that they don’t like, they all of a sudden will take away the dangling carrot – and the dangling carrot is your Olympic dream. They would take it out on you or if a coach were to speak up for you, they would take it out on their athletes in the future. They wouldn’t put them on a world or Olympic team. So they used that threat. They didn’t always have to verbalize it, but it was the fear inside the culture of the gym and the training and the training sessions. They basically hold your dream in their hand.”
Dozens of former gymnasts have accused Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, while others say that Bela and Marta Karolyi turned a blind eye to sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics. The Karolyis have also been accused of emotional and psychological abuse.
“Marta Karolyi had a huge hand in selecting the Olympic team,” Moceanu said. “They were my personal coaches. So I didn’t only have to see them every month. I saw them every day. And from my personal experience, I was one of the few athletes that this never happened to. I don’t believe it happened to many, especially American gymnasts. In Romania, it happened more. But they used to threaten me. Bela and Marta Karolyi would threaten me with I’m going to call your father so he can enforce physical punishment on you if you gain weight or if you appeared to gain weight. That mental stress when I was 11, 12, 13 – I was 4-4, I was 70 pounds. I was very, very little and didn’t have a weight problem. But they always made it seem like if I had a bad practice, it was because I was fat. It was always back to that. And so, that psychological trauma on a daily basis, that was not healthy for us. Everyone got that in 2000, where it was always about their weight or this culture that was constantly trying to shame you if you did a poor performance. They were brutal. They wouldn’t even look at you, and they would just disown you.”
Moceanu would often cry herself to sleep.
“(One day) I collapsed in the gym,” she recalled. “I was afraid to say I was hurting because they would make it appear like it was made up in my mind. So they played these manipulative mind games and it infiltrated into the whole women’s elite program. The Karolyis brought that system over 30-plus years ago when they came to the United States. They brought a lot of that over and they messed with your head that way. That’s the culture of fear we’re talking about. Anybody that speaks up is ostracized. There wasn’t any protection.”
Moceanu believes it is “absolutely” possible that USA Gymnastics conspired to cover up the sexual abuse that was allegedly rampant within its program.
“I’ve seen a whole trail of evidence that the Indy Star has done with their investigative reporting,” she said. “There (were thousands of documents about) how U.S. Gymnastics handled child sexual-abuse cases and it was all of the depositions that they were going through and there were quotes from Steve Penny, (who is the president of USA Gymnastics), talking about the coach is just as much a member of the gymnastics membership as the athletes. But they never gave the athletes the benefit of the doubt. They allowed sexual convicted criminals to not be banned from USA Gymnastics memberships. Even the police found these people guilty, and they still hadn’t banned them from the sport. They went on to be predators and molest other children. That’s pretty severe, and that’s alleged negligence at the height levels. You’re talking about serious, serious flaws in the system if you are letting convicted criminals back in and you are not notifying the community and membership and banning that person. What more evidence do you need if the police have convicted this person? They were saying they needed more investigation. Well, no, you don’t.
“Those are the type of problems that you run into when you don’t have a serious policy on handing abuse and sexual-abuse cases,” Moceanu continued. “There’s a trail of all of this being brushed under the rug. I know friends of mine that have talked to Steve Penny until they were blue in the face, wrote emails, tried to get people banned because they were predators. It was almost as if it was a nuisance for Steve Penny. He absolutely has no position to be in his authority and leadership anymore. There’s enough there for the board of directors to say we cannot allow this anymore, and someone has to be held accountable for all these children that were harmed.”