The Gymnastics Factory: The Rise and Fall of the Karolyi Ranch

Sylvia

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Starting a new thread for this podcast (A 30 FOR 30 Podcasts & espnW collaboration):
Heavy Metals

The 30 for 30 ESPN podcast of the Karolyis. Beware, it is 7 episodes, each one between 40-69 minutes. Hopefully we can discuss after people have a chance to listen. I will be listening.....

1987 ROUGH AND TUMBLE

1996 ONE HOT SUMMER

2001 HOUSE OF CARDS

2004 MADE FOR TV

2013 COMEBACK KIDS

2016 MARTHA’S FINAL ACT

2016 A MATTER OF RECORDS

2018 CLOSED FOR BUSINESS

2020 THE RECKONING

ETA the link to Dominique Moceanu's tweet today: https://twitter.com/Dmoceanu/status/1283232227128639488
@alyroe & @Bonnie_D_Ford I deeply appreciate your efforts to chronicle the poignant stories of #HeavyMedals. This moving @30for30 audio documentary is sure to encourage healthy dialogue—something many of us were denied as elite gymnasts.
 
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FiveRinger

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I wish there was video for this. There are a lot of interviews. Some voices are very familiar. Some are not. Watching would definitely help you keep up with who os who. Not everyone is introduced in a way that you can identify him or her easily. There is a lot of info that was new to me. I’ll need to listen again and gather my thought before commenting.
 

Lynn226

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I've listened to the first episode. I know the Karoylis received criticism while they were still actively coaching, but it seems a lot of journalists new about their abusive behaviors. I'm a bit surprised there wasn't a reckoning earlier in their careers. Is that a measure of how powerful USAG is? It's difficult to keep that many people quiet for that long. And why were journalists unwilling to expose them much earlier?

Dominique Moceanu did speak out, but almost nobody took her seriously. The link below includes an interview with Moceanu from 2018.

 

floskate

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I'm four podcasts in. I was particularly interested to hear the words of Emilia Eberle - now known as Trudi Kollar - in episode 1. It reminds me of this Good Morning America interview with Jim McKay back in 1978 - 42 years ago!!!!! - talking about the controversial training methods of Karolyi and the fact that Emilia Eberle looked half starved. The signs were always there. Everyone just decided to look the other way, time and time again.

https://youtu.be/PRLeEU5Ix9c?t=319
 

MacMadame

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I know the Karoylis received criticism while they were still actively coaching, but it seems a lot of journalists new about their abusive behaviors. I'm a bit surprised there wasn't a reckoning earlier in their careers. Is that a measure of how powerful USAG is?
It's a measure of how powerful winning is. No one wants to criticize a winner. When you do, it can come off as sour grapes and it tends to be discounted.
 

Lynn226

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It's a measure of how powerful winning is. No one wants to criticize a winner. When you do, it can come off as sour grapes and it tends to be discounted.
That's an excellent point and could help explain why Moceanu was ignored when she complained.
 

Amy L

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That's an excellent point and could help explain why Moceanu was ignored when she complained.
Yes, I remember at the time that Moceanu was called things like lazy, whiner, etc. At the end of her competitive career she was also suing her parents for emancipation, and that was used as "evidence" that she was just being a rebellious teen. :( It's probably a bitter victory that she was proven right all along.
 

Weve3

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The louder the noise and din coming from coaches burping up condemnation of Moceanu, the more convinced I became that she was spot on telling the truth. I can think of one coach in particular who could use a good :kickass: for his belligerent verbal harassment toward her because he was too busy sucking up to and kissing Márta Károlyi's a$$. Pathetic.
 

Wyliefan

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I'm four podcasts in. I was particularly interested to hear the words of Emilia Eberle - now known as Trudi Kollar - in episode 1. It reminds me of this Good Morning America interview with Jim McKay back in 1978 - 42 years ago!!!!! - talking about the controversial training methods of Karolyi and the fact that Emilia Eberle looked half starved. The signs were always there. Everyone just decided to look the other way, time and time again.

https://youtu.be/PRLeEU5Ix9c?t=319
That sounds familiar . . .
 

pollyanna

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I just remember being stunned at the 1979 World Cup - Nadia was so thin it was scary. I was afraid her bones would break during her FX. Eberle was always too thin.
 

floskate

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I just remember being stunned at the 1979 World Cup - Nadia was so thin it was scary. I was afraid her bones would break during her FX. Eberle was always too thin.
I think she lost even more by the time 1979 Worlds in Fort Worth rolled around. I remember reading a book years ago that commented on this and said that there were raised eyebrows at the whipcord appearance of the Romanian team, particularly Comaneci. That is where she only performed beam in TF due to her infected wrist but Geza Pozar in his recent interview with TSL (or was it mentioned in the Heavy Medals podcasts? I'm saturated in gymnastics horror stories at the moment!) mentioned that she had cut her wrist on purpose to infect it because she didn't want to compete. I need to go back and re-watch that because it was unclear whether he knew this for a fact or it was Bela blaming her.
 

Lynn226

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Listening to the podcast, I got the feeling that Bela abandoned Kristie Phillips to deal with the 1987 World Championships alone for the sake of holding a specific title with USAG. I don't remember the timeline, but he got what he wanted and Kristie suffered for it.

Why did Bela insist that the sting mat be removed for Moceanu's vault at the 1996 Olympics? It felt like sabotage.

Are there any gymnasts that defend the Karoylis?
 

Amy L

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That is where she only performed beam in TF due to her infected wrist but Geza Pozar in his recent interview with TSL (or was it mentioned in the Heavy Medals podcasts? I'm saturated in gymnastics horror stories at the moment!) mentioned that she had cut her wrist on purpose to infect it because she didn't want to compete. I need to go back and re-watch that because it was unclear whether he knew this for a fact or it was Bela blaming her.
I just watched the TSL interview last night, haven't gotten to Heavy Medals yet. I think he said Bela told him she did it on purpose, but he didn't know if it was true or not because Bela liked to make up his own stories. But I might have gotten that mixed up with the rumor that she had drunk bleach to try and commit suicide. Basically looking back, Geza doesn't know how much Bela ever told the truth, he can only say what he observed himself.
 

floskate

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I just watched the TSL interview last night, haven't gotten to Heavy Medals yet. I think he said Bela told him she did it on purpose, but he didn't know if it was true or not because Bela liked to make up his own stories. But I might have gotten that mixed up with the rumor that she had drunk bleach to try and commit suicide. Basically looking back, Geza doesn't know how much Bela ever told the truth, he can only say what he observed himself.
Thanks for that. I thought for a moment I was making it up!
 

her grace

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Are there any gymnasts that defend the Karoylis?
I haven't finished the podcast yet, and of course, opinions could have changed. But Mary Lou Retton has definitely been a Karolyi defender with her infamous, "you don't hear many complaints from the winners" (paraphrase) quote. Betty Okino has stated that she was okay with the Karolyi methods because she wanted to win. Okino has an interesting back story with her Ugandan/Romanian heritage, and she gave a fascinating interview to Gymcastic in 2016. For example, she speaks Romanian, which the Karolyis didn't figure out for some time, so she would overhear what they were saying to each other and understand. I don't think I've ever heard Kim Zmeskal say anything publicly against the Karolyis, but she was in the system trying to get kids on Marta's teams as recently as 2016 so I doubt she would have ever said anything against them.

from the ESPN article:
Few questioned the wisdom of training children and teenagers in a risky sport at such an isolated venue, far from hospitals and cut off from their families. Why would they? Before the Karolyis, the U.S. women had never won Olympic gold.
Statements like this irk me to no end. First, everyone knew it was a bad idea. If I as a casual fan--nothing like my skating fandom--can articulate why the ranch was a bad idea for the athletes, then there's literally no excuse for people actually in the system and in the enabler support system, ahem, NBC, ESPN to not know this was a bad idea. It's like the scene in Casablanca where the officer is "Shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in here." Second, the U.S. won Olympic gold before the Karolyis took over the USAG women's program. The 1996 team was only 2/7 Karolyi gymnasts and it was non-Karolyi athletes that posted the highest scores for the team and won all the individual medals. :soapbox:
 

Coco

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When I read "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes," my impression was that the Karolyis were not the scariest coaches in the US. So while they are very problematic and have harmed many athletes, this sport in the US had issues before they got here. Sometimes, the focus on the Karolyis being so bad almost allows the US born coaches to skate despite doing equally harmful things.
 

her grace

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So while they are very problematic and have harmed many athletes, this sport in the US had issues before they got here. Sometimes, the focus on the Karolyis being so bad almost allows the US born coaches to skate despite doing equally harmful things.
Agreed. Don Peters was the power coach pre-Karolyis and he was a sexual predator. The coaching's been rotten in the U.S. for a long time.
 

ioana

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Second, the U.S. won Olympic gold before the Karolyis took over the USAG women's program. The 1996 team was only 2/7 Karolyi gymnasts and it was non-Karolyi athletes that posted the highest scores for the team and won all the individual medals. :soapbox:
Think the first US Olympic gold there is in reference to Mary Lou Retton's AA gold in 1984, not team gold in 96. While Bela Karolyi wasn't officially accredited as her coach in Los Angeles, he was her coach of record. Likewise, US Team winning silver at the 1991 Worlds, ahead of Romania was another big first in terms of results as was Kim Zmeskal's all around title same year. I don't think there's much debate in terms of results improving once Karolyis came on board.

The issue raised is how much control was relinquished once gymnasts started going to their camp on a regular basis. And that camp became part of the official selection process for Worlds and the Olympics. Am sure Karolyis were far form the only abusive coaches around -and by several accounts they limited themselves to emotional and verbal abuse once in the US. Obviously, having daily weigh-ins and put downs that are downright :eek: in competition (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbSorsO5aSY&t=32s) are all issues. UASG leadership was aware of these things and chose to turn a blind eye. Since results were improving.

eta:
Agreed. Don Peters was the power coach pre-Karolyis and he was a sexual predator. The coaching's been rotten in the U.S. for a long time.
Am not sure Al Fong's 80s record would be a shining example, either, considering what happened to both Christy Heinrich and Julissa Gomez. However, he seemed to have gotten better in later years so maybe there is a chance some of the good technical coaches can learn to work on the interpersonal side of coaching as well.
 
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Lynn226

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@her grace

Thanks for the Betty Okino link. I see several interviews on that page I will listen to this week. I had forgotten that Mary Lou has never said anything negative about the Karoylis.

@Coco

Who do you think is worse than the Karoylis? I don't doubt you. I'm just interested in your opinion.

I remember an interview with Shannon Miller's mom where she said she didn't think Shannon even heard all the yelling that Steve Nunno did in the gym and she didn't think Steve expected Shannon to hear it. She seemed to be saying it was just part of the game.
 

floskate

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Are there any gymnasts that defend the Karoylis?
MLR still does doesn't she? Kerri Strug was mostly positive in that she felt he was what she needed, but it was interesting that her father went in and laid down the law to Bela as to how to treat Kerri. Never heard Kim Z say anything bad about them but has she ever defended them? I don't know. I'd be interested to know who else has defended them. It certainly sounds as though his treatment got most out of hand when he was under pressure, such as trying to make Emilia Eberle the next Nadia to prove to TPTB in Romania who had taken Nadia away from him that he could succeed without her. And then a similar thing with Dominique Moceanu prior to Atlanta.
 

canbelto

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Who do you think is worse than the Karoylis? I don't doubt you. I'm just interested in your opinion.
John Geddert had maybe the worst reputation. Have heard some horror stories about WOGA coaches although not Valeri Liukin directly. Maggie Haney?

I mean, in USAG it's hard to say if anyone was "better" or "worse." My impression was that it was a real race to the bottom and if you weren't outright cruel and abusive that was unusual.
 

floskate

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John Geddert had maybe the worst reputation. Have heard some horror stories about WOGA coaches although not Valeri Liukin directly. Maggie Haney?

I mean, in USAG it's hard to say if anyone was "better" or "worse." My impression was that it was a real race to the bottom and if you weren't outright cruel and abusive that was unusual.
When a gymnast is asked in the "At the Heart of Gold" documentary who John Geddert is and she replies "Satan", well I think that tells you all you need to know! I lurk at one of the gym forums and it seems barely any of the elite coaches are blemish free. The Strausses, the Rybacki's, Al Fong, Liukin (with almost anyone other than Nastia), AOGC with Maroney & others, Mary-Lee Tracy (although she has since come out and admitted that she did a lot of stuff wrong) and Maggie Haney of course. It seems the only one everyone agrees is lovely is Kyla Ross's elite coach who hugged everybody and I particularly remember her consoling Jordyn Weiber in London when she didn't make AA in qualifications.
 

Lynn226

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@floskate

I also found it interesting that Strug's father had that talk with Karoyli. It does make me wonder what their true relationship had been.
 

canbelto

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Kerri Strug doesn't talk about this but her dad was/is a wealthy surgeon and had the money to move her from coach to coach if he wasn't satisfied with her training. It sounds like the Karolyis directed most of their abuse at gymnasts who either had to be there (the Romanian training camp) or who didn't have a strong support system at home (Dominique Moceanu).

Strug also only trained with the Karolyis for short periods -- in 1991 and leading up to the Olympics and right before the 1996 games. Her experience might have been different than the gymnasts who trained with the Karolyis over the years.
 

Coco

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Vannie Edwards, who I think was one of Kathy Johnson's coaches. He seemed evil.
 

Weve3

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My first reaction when I heard that Márta and Béla Károlyi were tapped by USAG to take over the women's gymnastics program, was how incredibly inept USAG had become and what a terrible idea it was. I have never felt entirely comfortable with either Márta or Béla. They came across (and frankly it felt) fraudulent, phony, self-serving and disingenuous.

Béla was too over the top at meets, always a bit too goofy and overly enthusiastic to be taken seriously, especially when he would seek out and mug for the cameras, play up the moment, e.g., Kerri Strug @ the Olys. He knew where the cameras were at all times. It was painfully obvious and even more embarrassing.

Márta was grumpy, cold, calculating, and indifferent. She played head games, they both did, and if a gymnast wasn't in the mix, they might as well have been invisible.

Gymnasts were kept anxious, stressed-out, at odds with each other to earn their spot on the team. There were favorites, but they were not necessarily spoiled. Lots of B.S. Juvenile, unprofessional, very damaging.

A handful of Károlyi gymnasts (USA/Romania) have declined to speak out against Márta and Béla re their own experiences, the indiscretions, and abusive behavior they may have witnessed or been involved with... but, oh, a penny for their (private) thoughts.

Also, "The Ranch" was the most idiotic and certifiably foolish idea, ever. That smelled rotten to the core from day one. Too secretive, zero transparency, parents kept at bay, all spelled trouble with red flags popping up everywhere, what a mess. I am not shocked or surprised to see where they are now—the rise and finally, the FALL.

ETA: it's a shame that so many groveling coaches were duped into believing this was the only path to success in the sport. USAG can never let this happen again.
 
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floskate

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I still think USAG need to go and they start from scratch. Also, NBC blew a LOT of smoke up the Karolyi's behinds over the years and that was AFTER they had already been called out by Joan Ryan. Their ongoing narrative about an American dynasty and the endless linking back to Nadia and MLR for validation of the Karolyi method is pretty sickening when you re-watch. Even the commentary is complicit in it all. Tim and Elfi always sounded so disappointed in the gymnast when she made a mistake, like the subtext of Daggett's go-to "Oh boy!" always sounded like he really meant "she's gonna get it now" and Elfi made an art out of making the word "wow" sound like an insult. Then cue a shot to Bela and Marta looking pissed while Al Trawtwig then predicts the impending doom of said gymnast. The whole thing is just so fcuked up. :(
 

danafan

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just tuned in

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I still think USAG need to go and they start from scratch. Also, NBC blew a LOT of smoke up the Karolyi's behinds over the years and that was AFTER they had already been called out by Joan Ryan. Their ongoing narrative about an American dynasty and the endless linking back to Nadia and MLR for validation of the Karolyi method is pretty sickening when you re-watch. Even the commentary is complicit in it all. Tim and Elfi always sounded so disappointed in the gymnast when she made a mistake, like the subtext of Daggett's go-to "Oh boy!" always sounded like he really meant "she's gonna get it now" and Elfi made an art out of making the word "wow" sound like an insult. Then cue a shot to Bela and Marta looking pissed while Al Trawtwig then predicts the impending doom of said gymnast. The whole thing is just so fcuked up. :(
Wow, yes.
 

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