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

canbelto

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I remember once a gymnast was crying after a bad routine and the NBC crew said "Bela and Marta don't like criers."
 

Rob

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Where would you send a kid now if you had a potential Elite? Simone Biles gym? Or Zhang/Liang, Sarah Jantzi?
 

Loves_Shizuka

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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. :(

Very well said. Tbh, listening to the podcasts, and watching recent documentaries, so much about US gymnastics is just totally cringe; from the coaching and Nassar obviously, but even to some of the peripheral characters, the parents, the media coverage, the commentary, the fandom, even the way the Rio team announced calling themselves "The Final Five".

The whole culture just seems so icky.

Btw, where are the Karolyi's now? The podcast said they were still at the ranch, but then said it was empty.
 
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MacMadame

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My nephew is getting close to level 10. I think he just goes to a local gym in San Diego. There are plenty of gyms here in the Bay Area who get kids to level 10. I was the official photographer at a Level 9-10 States championship at least once or twice and I'd say that 75% of the gyms in the area were represented there.
 

floskate

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Btw, where are the Karolyi's now? The podcast said they were still at the ranch, but then said it was empty.

One of the stranger things I had heard is that Bela now has dementia and Marta abandoned him at the ranch and flew back to Romania. I mean, I wouldn't put this past Marta but I doubt very much if this is true. I took the empty ranch to imply there is no gymnastics going on there.
 

MacMadame

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I thought they owned it so it would make sense that they still live there. Though I supposed they could sell it and move somewhere else.
 

Coco

Rotating while Russian!
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They both flew back to Romania, which is what I've heard. Also heard he's been having dementia symptoms for some time now.

The ranch was under contract to USA Gymnastics and was very close to closing, so I'm sure they had moved out.

I think their daughter Andrea still lives in TX.
 

VALuvsMKwan

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They both flew back to Romania, which is what I've heard. Also heard he's been having dementia symptoms for some time now.

The ranch was under contract to USA Gymnastics and was very close to closing, so I'm sure they had moved out.

I think their daughter Andrea still lives in TX.

Should it be razed and sown with salt to exorcise the evil that took place there?
 

SmallFairy

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I’m into the fifth part of the podcast now. Hearing Moceanu is heartbreaking, as, as Kerri Strug says, her own parents where supportive of her and took good care of her, if she wanted an ice cream, her mother wouldn’t mind, she would buy her one. But Domenic didn’t just had to deal with the abuse of the Károlyi’s, she even had her own parents against her. I’m so glad she found the strenght to speak up, and that she now has a great family life of her own.
 

ilovepaydays

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Where would you send a kid now if you had a potential Elite? Simone Biles gym? Or Zhang/Liang, Sarah Jantzi?

What about Arizona Sunrays (Jade Carey’s dad gym)? If I was in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast? - First State in Delaware?

No way would I send my kid to WOGA or GAGE. And probably not to Texas Dreams, either.
 

floskate

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@ SmallFairy The more I hear and read about Dominique Moceanu the more she becomes a hero for me. How on earth she endured not only the Karolyi's but her parents abuse and then having to go to court to get control over her own money from her parents and then finding out she has a full sister with no legs who her Dad gave up for adoption before her mother had even had a chance to hold her and as if all that wasn't enough she then has the guts to tell the truth when nobody else was and she was absolutely trashed for it and ostracised from the US gymnastics community. HOW does a single person go through ALL of that and not crumble? She's just incredible and there are many, many people in the sport who owe her a HUGE apology.
 

Weve3

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Should it be razed and sown with salt to exorcise the evil that took place there?
Yes.

Tim, Elfi, Al, etc., they were very much complicit, and they all got caught up in the shite show. I genuinely hope elite gymnastics will come to be a sport again and rid itself of the soap opera image as a result of corrupt coaching ideologies, techniques, and of course, diabolical abuse.

How about we just let the ladies compete and may the best one win—no more funny stuff. No garbage. Shelve the drama and agenda. Everyone's had enough.

ETA: And, please, no more secluded camps or tucked away ranch locations with a dictator in charge. Thanks.
 
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Amy L

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But Domenic didn’t just had to deal with the abuse of the Károlyi’s, she even had her own parents against her.

Bela knew that, and would even use it against her. If she didn't listen to him or didn't do exactly what he wanted, he would threaten to tell her father. Bela knew full well that her father was physically abusive and lorded his control over her because he could have her beaten any time he wanted. :(

I'm so glad that Dominique seems like she's in a good place now and has a nice family. Bela is a shitlord and it sucks that he's gotten away with everything. I wouldn't wish dementia on anyone, but I wish there could have been some kind of justice for all those girls who were mentally and physically tortured by the Karolyis.
 

canbelto

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One thing about Dominique was that she wasn't opposed to tough coaches. She really liked Alexander Alexandrov, the SOviet/Russian coach. But she said she appreciated the way he worked with her day in day out to refine her skills and technique.

Her main complaint about the Karolyis was that they were a combination of abusive and unhelpful. They didn't have feedback for her when she made mistakes other than to fat-shame her or put her down. She says they were absent from the day to day coaching in the gym and tended to show up only to scold or to hog the cameras during competition.
 

her grace

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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.

I see that. I still think they receive too much credit for America's gymnastics success. Certainly, Karolyi gymnasts contributed to the U.S. rise in both individual and team success pre-National Team Coordinator position, but other American world and Olympic team members who didn't train with the Karolyis also deserve credit.

It's also amazing that Marcia Frederick, the first American female to win an event gold at a fully-attended world championships in 1978, is virtually erased from U.S. gymnastics history (not to mention Cathy Rigby and Kathy Johnson, the other 1970s world medalists). She doesn't fit because she emerged before the Karolyis arrived, and then the American boycott in 1980 didn't allow her to have her chance at an Olympic moment. Then with the fortuitous (for the Americans) withdrawal of the Soviets in 1984, which allowed for outsized success, NBC can pretend that U.S. gymnastics began in 1984 with Karolyi.
 

Aceon6

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The media didn’t get excited until the power gymnasts showed up. In the 70s, all the commentators could manage were comments on how graceful the women were. IIRC, they ddidnt really think it was much of a sport until people started getting hurt on camera.
 

her grace

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I finished part 3, and I have a bone to pick.

They organized the information to imply that Zmeskal's Olympic fall on beam had happened before Strug performed on beam and put so much pressure on Strug. But Strug had already completed her compulsories earlier in the day. Back then, it was two athletes per country at a time competing compulsories, and Zmeskal and Miller were the final two Americans to compete. If anything, Strug's excellent performances put pressure on Zmeskal because she had to hit everything else to pass Strug to get into the AA final.

Also, rewatching Compulsories, there was no way the Americans were in the same league as the Unified Team. They simply weren't as deep top to bottom. Bruce wasn't that great and Dawes was still too green and had shaky moments. This team should have been thrilled with a medal instead of overhyped as a gold contender.

And Galieya was amazing and totally underscored.
 

Weve3

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Also, rewatching Compulsories, there was no way the Americans were in the same league as the Unified Team. They simply weren't as deep top to bottom. Bruce wasn't that great, and Dawes was still too green and had shaky moments. This team should have been thrilled with a medal instead of overhyped as a gold contender
Exactly. Of course, they hype these things to keep people interested. The thought is that no one tunes in to watch someone "win" silver, etc. The promise of gold brings in the viewers and a certain amount of enthusiasm.
 

Weve3

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I see that. I still think they receive too much credit for America's gymnastics success. Certainly, Karolyi gymnasts contributed to the U.S. rise in both individual and team success pre-National Team Coordinator position, but other American world and Olympic team members who didn't train with the Karolyis also deserve credit.

It's also amazing that Marcia Frederick, the first American female to win an event gold at a fully-attended world championships in 1978, is virtually erased from U.S. gymnastics history (not to mention Cathy Rigby and Kathy Johnson, the other 1970s world medalists). She doesn't fit because she emerged before the Karolyis arrived, and then the American boycott in 1980 didn't allow her to have her chance at an Olympic moment. Then with the fortuitous (for the Americans) withdrawal of the Soviets in 1984, which allowed for outsized success, NBC can pretend that U.S. gymnastics began in 1984 with Karolyi.
The only thing that began with B&M was the inevitable fall of their ridiculous ranch bullshite. Heartbreaking it unfolded the way it did, but I always felt like it was complete horse💩 from day one.

Thanks for reminding folks that "gasp* gymnastics actually existed before 84 - OMG! 😱

:lol: Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Also, thinking back to how many people thought "The Ranch" was such a fabulous, brilliant idea?! 🤮 Yeah, right. 😡 Next time, USAG, try taking a hard pass.
 

Winnipeg

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It made me sad to see Julissa Gomez. She was so talented and cute and then had that horrible accident.
 

overedge

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This is exactly the sort of thing I'm on about, to the point that the entire viewership was pretty much being gaslighted into thinking that the whole set up was normal and what was needed if you wanted Team USA to win the OGM.

I remember that before the Atlanta Olympics, there was a magazine (possibly PEOPLE) that had a cover photo of Mark Henry, a weightlifter, and Dominique Moceanu. They were the biggest and smallest athletes on the US Olympic team. The story described how much each of them ate each day, and gave the calorie count. Mark Henry was basically eating everything in sight, but it was horrific how little Moceanu ate. I think it was something like fruit for breakfast, a small salad for lunch, and fish and vegetables for dinner. IIRC it was not much more than 1000 calories a day. The tone of the story was "look at how many sacrifices these brave athletes make to be at the Olympics".

I remember this because I was so horrified I wrote a letter to the editor saying, that's not enough food to sustain a normal person leading a regular life, so it's definitely not enough for an elite athlete in a high-energy sport, and why are you applauding this? Of course, the magazine didn't run the letter.

That's more of the same kind of gaslighting that was going on around then.
 

canbelto

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I also remember some articles about Dominique's parents that set off red flags. Like her dad deciding that "his child WOULD become a gymnast" the minute Dom came into this world. Now knowing that the parents actually gave up a daughter without legs it makes the father's pushiness that much creepier.
 

just tuned in

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I remember that before the Atlanta Olympics, there was a magazine (possibly PEOPLE) that had a cover photo of Mark Henry, a weightlifter, and Dominique Moceanu. They were the biggest and smallest athletes on the US Olympic team. The story described how much each of them ate each day, and gave the calorie count. Mark Henry was basically eating everything in sight, but it was horrific how little Moceanu ate. I think it was something like fruit for breakfast, a small salad for lunch, and fish and vegetables for dinner. IIRC it was not much more than 1000 calories a day. The tone of the story was "look at how many sacrifices these brave athletes make to be at the Olympics".

I remember this article also. Moceanu ate a substantial lunch of chicken and vegetables. Dinner was a bowl of cereal. I don't think her diet was too short on calories, but I also remember an article where Ashley Wagner discusses what she ate in a day, and it was a lot more than Moceanu. Wagner ate peanut butter sandwiches and honey!
 

VGThuy

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So many great points being made. I love the posts talking about how the media’s love affair with the Karyolis erased the non-Karyoli achievements of American gymnastics. That 1997-2000 cycle scared USAG to death and they put all their eggs in the Karyoli basket and gave them near autonomy to do what they wanted. Even then they made Marta in charge instead of Bela because they for some reason thought she was probably the healthier choice. I guess she was the actual tech coach while Bela was the muscle. Of course, the hardcore fans made note of how many unnecessary injuries happened and badly prepared the gymnasts were for the big meets under Marta’s camp system. So often, they were past their peak and looked like they just survived some horrific experience once they got to competition. There was a reason why fans called them “Death Kamps” despite all the work NBC did to talk it up and make it seem like the best system in the world.

To put it in highly simplistic terms, abuse ran rampant despite the media and the public knowing because it has taken this long for society to change its views on abuse. For a long time since I can remember (and I’m old but not that old), we all glamorized hardship which means many us romanticized the obstacles and abuse it takes to be the best. Americans value winners. We were conditioned to think this system was needed to produce winners. Any straying from the boot camp mentality is seen as weak. Look at the big over-the-top fuss people make about participation trophies (something Olympic champion Charlie White likes) and adopting healthier teaching methods for kids. When I say “we” or “us” I don’t mean us in this thread, just society as a whole, which does influence us.

We didn’t even take sexual abuse that seriously. I mean I read about people knowing and joking about Don Peters grooming and sexually abusing Doe Yamashiro while it was happening in the 1980s (also according to Jennifer Sey’s accounts). There were rumors about Octavian Belu having an affair with Maria Olaru much to the chagrin of Bitang. What were the hardcore fan reactions? Making jokes out of it.

Regarding diets, more fans were appalled, but were also quick to call gymnasts fat or chunky. That whole 1999 American team were laughed at for being “fat”. One member even overheard a coach in the hotel room saying this was the fattest team the US ever produced. Apparently, other teams at that world were laughing at how fat the Americans were. At the 2008 Olympics, one Italian coach commented on how much bigger the American team was, and there was a poster here on FSU (forgot who it was and not sure if they post here anymore) commented in defense after other posters reacted badly to that comment that we should be real and admit that there were some real “chunky” gymnasts on that American team.

I just think we were all complicit in playing into this and we were conditioned to do so thanks to the gaslighting and the romanticization of it that was cited in this thread.
 
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aka_gerbil

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I came across an article from 1994 or 1995 in which Betty Okino recounted that when the US team was in France to train prior to Barcelona, Karolyi's athletes were only allowed to consume 900 calories/day. The recommended calorie count for a 1-year-old is 1000 calories/day. These were Olympic athletes....eating less than a toddler should be eating. There are also a lot of horror stories out there about how little food his gymnasts had when training at the ranch, or how parents, trainers, and others would have to sneak food to his girls at competitions.

Going back and reading articles from the period before the Karolyis became the national team coordinators and the monthly camps at the ranch for all, there were so, so, so many red flags about how they were treating gymnasts training under them. It blows my mind that they were ever given the power they were.
 
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canbelto

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Another thing about the Karolyis is why did the US become so bad on bars under their watch? Of course there were always the bars specialists like Amy Chow or Nastia Liukin but in general for all the camps you saw the same problems over and over on bars -- poor posture and struggles with inbars transitions. When you saw the Russians or Chinese or British do their bars sets then you saw the Americans it was like a joke.
 

VGThuy

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Karyolis were Romanian through-and-through. They valued hard hitting consistency on beam and sticks more than anything. I don’t think bars were their forte. Which is why every American who did well on bars and even won medals in the past two decades on bars came from gyms that seemed to have a philosophical difference from the Karyolis. That said, the only time I thought the Americans had a huge hole on bars was 2012 when they were competing against the Russians, which why Kyla Ross was put on the team over other gymnasts and thank goodness Gabby Douglas found consistency that season. That hole is why Nastia tried to make a comeback because she saw the US had a weakness on bars that the Russians could exploit if they were on (they were not). I don’t think Americans were ever a “joke” on bars. Maybe the ones who were coached by the Karyolis were but not all of the Americans as a whole.

In 2004, they were banking of their strength on bars and beam to hold them over the Romanians, and even left two reigning World bar champions home whole they had another world bar champ on the team. They came away with two medals in the bars final at those Games. Terin Humphrey’s bars actually did benefit from the camp system as they improved big time from the beginning of the Olympic year to the Olympics with her handstands and pirouettes meeting requirements unlike say Li Ya’s whose pirouettes were off 90 degrees.

In 2008, the Chinese took advantage of the code at the time and took the D score advantage on bars. They then changed the rule and killed the Chinese advantage, which most gym fans liked because they didn’t like the “loopholes” with all the pirouetting skills adding to the D score. Anyway, the Chinese had issues on bars too, like their dead hang issues over a decade ago. Now, the Chinese have way more issues with their gymnastics program than dead hangs on bars. Are the Brits that much better than the Americans on bars all-around? Other than Tweddle, I don’t know many Brits who are known superstars on bars, and she had issues with form too. Downie could be one in the making but is she far ahead the Americans? Anyway, at the 2019 Worlds, the Americans were second on bars in the team competition while the Chinese were 6th and Brits were 4th.
 
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overedge

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@aka_gerbil And one of the trainers sneaking food to those girls later on may have been Larry Nassar. I honestly can't comprehend how awful that situation must have been. To work that hard to be an elite gymnast, with all the mental and physical stress along the way, and then to be trapped in a training situation where you are isolated and being starved, where the people in charge are abusing you, and knowing that if you complain or leave you will be shut out of the opportunities you worked most of your life for. I am honestly surprised that none of them had a complete mental breakdown.
 

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