Since the Olympics have been consuming my evenings lately, I picked up an Olympics-related book to read during the boring sports and commercials since I haven't been able to focus on anything more complicated. Gymnastics is my favorite sport of the Summer Olympics and this year's USA team gold made me think about watching the 96 Olympics, so I picked up Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu. I was expected a story mainly about gymnastics and the Olympics, but apparently Moceanu has had a crazy life.
Moceanu was coached by Bela and Marta Karolyi and it seems like the horror stories about them were even worse. Moceanu says they treated her worse that the others because her parents are Romanian immigrants who would go along with their worst abuses. The girls practiced on run-down equipment and in an unair-conditioned gym through most of the summer while at training camp. They had to bring their own food to camp, but were punished if it wasn't healthy. The Karolyis would eat all kinds of food in front of the girls and yell at them about their weight.
She talks about how Bela played up his concern for Kerry Strug after completing her vault on a broken foot because the cameras were on. Moceanu was forced to compete in a different competition through an injury - they told her to just stop whining. Turns out she had a stress fracture in her leg and had made it worse by continuing to work so hard on it. After the Olympics, the Karolyis left without saying a word to Moceanu and didn't speak to her until she tried to make her comeback and she was forced to.
Of course, with any memoir you have to take everything with a grain of salt. This is Moceanu's side of the story, and we can't know for sure how accurate everything is since it is only from her perspective. However, her story rang true to me and is a fascinating story of mental abuse from her father and the craziness of the Karolyis. On top of that, the most interesting thing about the memoir has nothing to do with gymnastics.
When Moceanu was six, her mother gave birth to a baby who had no legs. They kept the whole thing secret from Moceanu and gave the baby up for adoption. Years later, the sister found Moceanu and reunited with her and their youngest sister. It was horrifying that Moceanu's parents gave up this baby because it was disabled. Ironically, the sister ended up having a much happier, more stable childhood than Moceanu and has been impressively successful in athletic pursuits. She's so amazing at acrobatics that she's toured with Britney Spears! How crazy is that? Her story was really inspiring. How can I make excuses to not even exercise when she's off playing volleyball, basketball and softball and winning a state championship in tumbling and doing acrobatics with no legs?!?! She also went to a high school with four stories - and no elevators. Most people would have just given up, but she climbed those stairs and did anything she put her mind to. Check out this brief video featuring some of her tumbling work! This was definitely an interesting read, for both the story of these two sisters and for the inside look at gymnastics.