Heavy Medals Episode 4

Home Games Pulled back onto the world gymnastics stage by the precocious talent of their newest protege, Dominique Moceanu, Bela and Martha are all in on winning gold at the Atlanta Games. But when Dominique falls on vault, everything rides on the shoulders of Bela’s long-overshadowed veteran, Kerri Strug, to bring home the gold.

Transcript

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: A word of warning: this episode contains mature language depicting instances of sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse of children.

 

[ESPN
            Announcer: Bela’s back, back with that same drive and
            enthusiasm that served him well in years past.]

 

[ESPN

Announcer: Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal. Could he be doing it again?]

[ESPN
Announcer: He now begins his quest for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.]


                        [ABC News
                        Anchor: You said you retired, but you’re coming out of retirement. 

Bela Karolyi: Well…
Anchor: What’s making this decision?
Bela Karolyi: Well you know now I’m back again and I’m, looks like I’m going for another nineteen uh 96 Olympic Games. Atlanta, probably the most
exciting one for the United States.]

 

[CBC Sports
Reporter: In spite of all of the heat you’ve taken in the past couple of years, in spite of all that, you sound like you’re happy to be back.
Bela Karolyi: I’m happy to be back, honestly.]


ALYSSA ROENIGK: This is Episode 4: Home Games

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Bela Karolyi had come out of retirement to coach a new young gymnast with huge potential. 

[ESPN
Announcer: Dominique Moceanu, getting ready. The youngest national champion ever .
Announcer: Watch this little wonder explode into the air.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique Moceanu drew instant comparisons to the athlete who had launched Bela to international prominence 20 years earlier.

[ABC Sports
Announcer: This 14-year-old is being compared to Nadia Comaneci for coach Bela Karolyi and she also comes from Romanian parents.]


ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique became the National Champion at just 13-years-old. And as a 14-year-old at the World Championships in 1995, she and her coach were both in the spotlight.
           

 

[CBC Sports
Announcer: He is an interesting character and has been criticized a great deal in the past couple of years. He’s very tough on gymnasts as he is on his new superstar, 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu. She is the youngest national champion in the history of the United States.

Announcer: For a young athlete. She has tremendous confidence on this event.  Back handspring, layout, layout, layout, three layouts and in Bela’s own words, she is showing no fear.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: At the 1995 World Championships, Dominique took silver on the balance beam and was the top all-around finisher for the U.S. 

[CBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: She’s just so young, but doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by the pressure of her very first World Championships. And that’s what’s so neat about Dominique. This is fun to her. She really enjoys what she’s doing.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Bela and Martha saw an athlete who could take them back to the top. They set their sights on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

                        [NBC Sports
                        Announcer: Is ‘96 Olympic All-Around Champion within your
                        grasp?
                        Dominique Moceanu: I hope so. I’m you know, gonna train for it, and I hope
                        so.]

[ESPN
Bela Karolyi: Dominique is a special, I would say, one of a kind. Not just because her God given physical abilities, which are excellent, but because her personality and the way how she is thinking about the sport. She is a little tiger behind her big wide smile.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Bonnie was covering Olympic sports for the Chicago Tribune when Dominique became the newest Karolyi hopeful.

BONNIE FORD: I went to Houston in the spring of 1996 to do a story about Dominique and I had a chance to interview her father Dumitru. He had been a talented junior gymnast in Romania, but his parents forced him give it up to finish his education. Before Dominique’s father even met her mother, he had made up his mind that his first child was going to be a gymnast. So Dominique was born into those expectations. 

So when Dominique was six months old, he took her out to the backyard, he put her hands around a clothesline and he waited to see if she would hang on, and she did. Dumitru revered Bela Karolyi as a maker of champions and he was dead set on having Dominique work with Bela. 

 

[ESPN
Anchor: The parents of Dominique Moceanu first sought out Karolyis tutelage when she was just 3 years old. Karolyi told them to call back when she was 10. They called.]

 

BONNIE FORD: Most of us covering Olympic sport at that time weren’t old enough to have been around Nadia in 1976 and now here’s her reincarnation walking around. History was repeating itself with this guru and this little girl, and it was an irresistible storyline. 

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: But it wasn’t just the media who looked at Bela’s return as an opportunity…

KERRI STRUG: I saw the Karolyis at a competition with Dominique Moceanu

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri Strug had been left stranded after Bela retired at the 1992 Olympics. In the three years since, she’d battled a series of injuries, while constantly switching gyms. But she couldn’t find a coach who motivated her the way Bela had. 

KERRI STRUG: I told my parents that since they were out of retirement, I wanted to return.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri’s parents were hesitant. They remembered how much she had struggled with Bela’s aggressive coaching style and training demands. But Kerri was adamant that she needed the Karolyis, and she needed this second chance to prove herself.

KERRI STRUG: I wasn’t hesitant. I was most comfortable under the Karolyis’ watch. I knew this was my last Olympic Games and I wanted to be prepared.


ALYSSA ROENIGK: So Kerri returned to Texas with her parents.

KERRI STRUG: We went out there and visited with them and set some guidelines and expectations, I started training with them. 


DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: Kerri’s dad had had a talk with Bela and Martha
before they came, and they’re like, you’re not going to treat her like you had in the past.
She’s not a little kid. You can’t treat her like you used to. She won’t last, like
she won’t be able to handle it.

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu was envious of her new training partner, 18-year-old Kerri Strug.
           

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: So I always felt like she was a bit more babied because of that.

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Bela had spent the past decade improving the training facilities at his ranch. Things were still pretty rustic, but the Karolyis liked the lack of distractions. So instead of training their Olympic hopefuls at their state of the art gym in Houston, he and Martha brought Dominique and Kerri out to Huntsville.

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: And it was just Kerri and me throughout that summer. Right before we went to the Atlanta games, we had to live at the ranch. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: And the equipment was subpar. It wasn’t really the best equipment. Our legs were dead. I think it’s like legendary between all the Karolyi gymnasts that that floor was so hard. And we’re like, if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere. 

KERRI STRUG: The two of us were in this little cabin and there was three bunk beds, one bathroom, a kitchen and a couch. There was a TV with like two channels and it was steps away from the gym. And you would hear Bela’s four wheeler and know that it was time to get out that door, go to the gym.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Once again, Kerri Strug found herself playing second fiddle – training alongside the Karolyi’s latest “it” girl.

            KERRI STRUG: I was 18. I was no longer 13,14-years-old. And I don’t think the
            expectations were as high for me, from the Karolyis as they were for Dominique.
            She was kind of the shining star. 

And I think in some ways I was jealous of her that she was, you know, the next Nadia Comaneci and had all this attention, had done so well and had this family that was always in the gym supporting her. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri only saw what was on the surface. Dominique’s parents lived in Houston, and were always around.. Always checking in. They were close with the Karoylis, who knew they could use the Moceanus to help control Dominique.  

To Kerri, that attention looked like support. To Dominique, it felt oppressive

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: One day I was in the middle of my nap at the ranch, when I hear the door open up.  

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique woke up to see her father standing in her and Kerri’s room.

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: I’m just kind of dazed and I’m just like, what’s going on? He pulls me by my ear and he wakes me up and pulls me out of the bed. And he’s just like, you know, what are you doing? How come you’re not working hard? He’s speaking to me in Romanian. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dumitru Moceanu led his daughter to the house and into the Karolyis’ den, where her mother,  Bela, and Martha were all waiting for her.

DOMINIQUE MOCENAU: And then my dad starts going at me like, why are you not working hard? What are you doing? Why are you eating what you’re not supposed to?

And I’m like wait what are you talking about? I was so terrified. I’m like, I better just not say anything because I’m in trouble anyway.

And all of a sudden out of the blue, he hit me across my cheek really, really hard in front of Martha and Bela. I remember just holding my cheek and I was trying to be tough but I felt mortified and humiliated.

Martha had this look of satisfaction on her face like, good for you. And it was like she was happy that I was being punished, it’s like she enjoyed the moment. 

I started welling up with tears in my eyes and I don’t even say a word, and I just feel so horrible about myself in this moment, but I eventually put two and two together and I was like, oh, it was because they found candy and they wanted to to get me in trouble with my dad. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique’s aunt, knowing the Karolyis searched her bags for food, had given her a teddy bear — and inside the bear, she’d hidden a few of Dominique’s favorite candies.

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: It was just some fun kid stuff. I mean, Twizzlers, gum and Mentos, it’s not the end of the world.

At that moment, everything turned dark for me.

KERRI STRUG: You know, my parents did sneak me things here and there when I really needed them. Hers did not. I knew if I said, “I’ve had enough, I’m done with this, go give me that ice cream sundae.” My parents would have gotten it for me. She didn’t have that option.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique had no reprieve. Just the weight of expectations. And, on top of all that, she was training through the pain of a stress fracture in her shin. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: We can never say I’m hurt.  It was a sign of weakness to Martha. She would make you feel like you’re faking it. And Bela, too, I mean, you could not say I’m hurting to them. They wouldn’t believe you. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri Strug was also training through an injury, a sore ankle that twinged with every landing. The two athletes had more in common than they realized, but they were too busy being envious of each other to notice.

Kerri, on her way to her second Olympic Games, yearned for someone to pay attention and treat her like a serious contender… while Dominique would have given anything to escape the constant pressure from the adults around her.
           

[NBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: Is she what gymnastics can be? What it will be? Dominique           Moceanu, molded by the coach of champions, Bela Karolyi. And already counted as the sport’s future.]

[NBC Sports
Announcer: Welcome to Atlanta’s Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony of these Centennial Olympic Games.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: The 1996 Summer Olympics were on home turf, just as they had been when Mary Lou won gold in 1984. This time, the U.S. women came in as a favorite.

[NBC Sports
Announcer: The women’s team competition is still one day away and already things have gotten wacky. The marketers have gotten ahold of this thing. They’re calling the women the Magnificent Seven. So they have hats and t-shirts with “Mag Seven” emblazoned on them, I understand key chains are next.]

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Marha Karolyi — not Bela — was named head coach. 

But it was truly just a matter of optics. Everyone knew Bela and Martha were a package deal. Bela personally coached two of the US athletes, so of course he would be there on the floor. It was a win-win. NBC got Bela mugging for the cameras …

[NBC Sports
Announcer: …Both these guys. There’s Bela…
Bela Karolyi: You gonna get it for this (laughter)
Announcer: What did we do?? (laughter) ]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: And USA Gymnastics got Martha’s ironclad organization behind the scenes.

[NBC Sports

Announcer: Martha Karolyi, very few a lot of people don’t even realize he’s married for twenty five years. He’s been married to this incredible tiger of a woman who is the gymnastic coach.]

 


ALYSSA ROENIGK: And both Bela and Martha were laser focused on bringing home gold.

 

[NBC Sports
Announcer: And you are hearing the U.S. team being announced to this crowd who are on their feet.]

 

KERRI STRUG: Going into the Georgia Dome, it was amazing in terms of, you know,      you just saw the sea of red, white, and blue. There was all the flashes. 

 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: Everybody is just chanting, cheering for USA when we come out of there so much enthusiasm and electricity. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: That excitement all centered on whether or not the Americans — and the Karolyis — could finally beat the Russians.

[NBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: And back here with the United States marching to their next rotation, the standings will show you that they are firmly established in gold medal position.]

KERRI STRUG: And everybody was, you know, high fiving and hugging. Team USA was on a roll. And. Our quest for Olympic gold was really gonna come to fruition.

[NBC Sports                                                                                                                Announcer: Next up, Dominique Moceanu, 14-years-old in the Olympic Games.]

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Balance beam can be the make or break point on a team’s quest for gold. With just four inches wide, four feet off the ground, there is no room for error. And there was an incredible amount of pressure on Dominique to put up a big score.

 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: We have a microphone on Bela Karolyi, her coach. I want you to hear it. 

Bela Karolyi: And tight. Nice height. Yes! Yes!

 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: I remember just being so relieved because I nailed it. I nailed everything and I stuck the dismount. 

 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                                Bela Karolyi: (Yells loudly in excitement)                                                       Announcer: It is moves like that that will win Team USA their first gold medal.] 

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique Moceanu, one of the youngest Olympians of all time, was leading the U.S. march to gold.

 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: Standings after three rotations of four, the United States is in gold medal position, they have widened their lead over Russia.]

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: The Americans held the lead, but hadn’t knocked the Russians out of gold medal contention. On the final rotation, the U.S. moved to the vault.

[NBC Sports

Announcer: They each get two vaults. They will take the higher score, of course. 

Announcer: This is Jaycie Phelps. 

Announcer: …9 6 6 2

Announcer: Amy Chow’s second vault.

Announcer: I think Shannon’s going to be trying an easier vault.

Announcer: …. Not gonna be in the 9-8 range, but it’s not bad either.

Announcer:…Dominique Dawes is next.

Announcer: Awesome Dawes-ome!]

 
ALYSSA ROENIGK: The first four vaults were solid, but they still needed one more great score to clinch a victory.

It all came down to the last two gymnasts in the rotation: Dominique Moceanu and Kerri Strug. 

Dominique stood at the start of the vaulting runway. Her right leg,  the one with the stress fracture, was heavily taped.

 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: I remember there being so much chaos right before I went for my vault, Bela wanted the sting mat taken out. I wanted it in.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: A sting mat is what it sounds like: a 2-inch extra layer of padding that helps cushion the landing. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: That’s what I practiced on. Why would you change it? When I’m vaulting? When you don’t have it exactly the way you trained, it starts to mess with your head a little bit. I’d never done it without a sting mat. 

He’s waving his arms, and he’s like no no no, and hollering some things and trying to communicate with people 80 feet down the runway and I’m about to go and I have almost a panic attack inside. 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: Here’s the situation now if Dominique Moceanu gets a 9 7 4 3, then the American team will be a lock for the Team Gold. 

Announcer: That would win the gold medal.

Announcer: Oh!]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique fell on her first vault. The crowd was stunned.

She walked back to the start of the runway to make her second attempt.

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: Bela is trying to holler some things over the divider, but what he’s saying, it’s not even making sense. It’s like animated, for camera’s sake, but not for me. It wasn’t helpful to me. 

[NBC Sports

Announcer: To win the team gold, here we go. 

Announcer: Oh! The same thing.]

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Dominique fell a second time. 

 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                                Announcer: Well this is amazing.]

 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: I just remember my feet slipping from under me and my mouth was again, oh shoot. Like I thought I was going to be in so much trouble. I was like, I don’t even want to go face my coaches. Like I just wanna like crawl under the floor right now and die. 

KERRI STRUG: I was stunned. She was supposed to be the next Nadia Comaneci. This girl really could handle the pressure, usually. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: I remember walking off the podium, I didn’t want to even make eye contact with Martha Karolyi and she grabs me by the back of my neck when I walk off the podium. She’s like, too bad nah.

My heart just sank when she said that because I knew she was saying, you know, you basically are worthless. 

 

[NBC Sports
Announcer: …So, Kerri Strug, it is up to her if she can score nine point four, nine three, you see her parents in the stands, or better, then she will win the team gold for the USA. She’s the last to go. She’s the only one who can do it.]

 

KERRI STRUG: There was a reason why I was last in the lineup. There was very high expectations. 

[NBC Sports
Announcer: Oh! Three falls in a row for the Americans.                                Announcer: Falls short, just like Moceanu.]

 

KERRI STRUG: I was embarrassed and you know, this is the Olympics.

[NBC Sports
            Announcer: …Wait, and she is limping. Kerri is hurt.]

KERRI STRUG: I knew something was wrong. I felt like my ankle was out of place.

[NBC Sports

Announcer: Kerri Strug is in trouble. She just stumbled there. She either turned her ankle.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri flexed her ankle and pointed her toes, and hopped from one foot to the other as she made her way back to take her final vault. She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t call to her coaches for help. And so there was no consultation with Bela, Martha, or the medical staff.

 

[NBC Sports

Announcer: Up until the vault, it looked like the Americans would be a lock. Her first score, a nine point one six two not high enough. She knows what to do. She will go when she is ready.]

KERRI STRUG: My teammates had done their part. I can’t imagine, unless I had to be carried off, not at least trying again. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: And Bela’s over there from the divider. Like you can do it Kerri you can do it.  

[NBC Sports

            Bela Karolyi: Shake it off. You can do it! You can do it!]

KERRI STRUG: It was silly, Bela just saying you can do it.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri steadied herself and visualized perfect execution.

KERRI STRUG: I said to myself, you can and you will do this.

[NBC Sports

Bela Karolyi: You can do it! Don’t worry about.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Kerri charged down the runway, did a round-off onto the springboard and a back handspring onto the vaulting horse. 

KERRI STRUG: Raise your arms, stretch out as far as you can. Snap down hard.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Rotating one and a half times in the air … 

Kerri Strug: Keep your arms by your ears, tight turn. 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                                (sound of vault) ]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: And stuck the landing.
                       
                        [NBC Sports                                                                                                                                        (cheering) ]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Immediately, she lifted her left leg and raised her arms overhead to salute the judges.


[NBC Sports                                                                                                                Announcer:…her head, she finished the vault.
Announcer: Standing on one leg…]

 

KERRI STRUG: I didn’t plan on lifting the leg up and hopping off. I mean, it was
            all just instinctual. The pain was too great for my leg to be down.

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: And then down to the floor she goes, like grabbing her ankle and wincing in some serious amount of pain. 

[NBC Sports 
Announcer: Kerri Strug is hurt. She is hurt badly.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: As Kerri sank to her hands and knees on the mat, the crowd rose to its feet.

                        [NBC Sports
                        Announcer: We have got to find out if she …a 9 7 1 2! She has done it!
                        Kerri Strug has won the gold medal for the United States team!]

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: The crowd then erupts again. It reminds us that, yeah, the scores up there on the board were on top and we won, and the team is like, yay, are we supposed to be happy because she’s hurt? Are we allowed to celebrate? 

                        [NBC Sports
Announcer: The Georgia Dome is all at once in pandemonium and everyone in this place is worried about Kerri Strug.]

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Martha Karolyi and a female trainer helped Kerri off the competition floor, where 33-year-old Larry Nassar was waiting. He had just been appointed the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: And it was honestly just chaos at that point.

 

There’s people throwing flowers at us and I remember everybody being excited behind the curtain as we were you know preparing to march out for the awards ceremony. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: The U.S. Team was about to walk out onto the Olympic podium, but Kerri was still in a room behind the competition area getting medical attention. 

KERRI STRUG: Bela came in screaming, “they’re going to do the award ceremony. You got to come, you got to come.”

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Geza Pozsar was one of the few people allowed backstage. He had choreographed the floor routines for Kerri and every member of the Magnificent Seven.

GEZA POZSAR: Bela comes in, picking up Kerri like that and taking her out.

KERRI STRUG: I was laying on like a stretcher and he just came in and scooped me up. And then we went down to the floor and the girls were already lined up.

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Bela carried his star gymnast to the podium beaming the whole time. Kerri looked both stoic and helpless. She had tears in her eyes and was in obvious pain. Her left leg, wrapped in a temporary cast, stuck out at an awkward angle. 

KERRI STRUG: And I remember Bela whispering to me, this is your moment. Enjoy it, Kerri.      

[NBC Sports                                                                                                                Bela Karolyi: Enjoy it very much. Enjoy it. Enjoy it, you deserve it. You deserve it.]

KERRI STRUG: Because I was the type of kid who had a hard time just letting go of everything else and being in the moment. And he knew that. 

[NBC Sports 

Bela Karolyi: Wave to the people. Wave. All right.] 

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: The TV audience saw a paternal gesture, a coach caring for his injured champion. 

GEZA POZSAR: Bela knew what he was doing. That picture was all over in every single newspaper in the next day in the morning. That picture was millions of dollars. 

[NBC Sports                                                                                                    Announcer: Tomorrow, Kerri Strug will be on the cover of every newspaper in the world.]

 

GEZA POZSAR: That’s natural Bela, you know. He wanted to be the one to get the recognition before the athletes got recognition. 

[AP Archive

Crowd: Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! ]

 

JOHN LOPEZ: It was so Bela, it was so Bela to do that, but it’s absolutely understandable.

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Houston Chronicle reporter John Lopez was watching from press row in the Georgia Dome. He had been covering both Kerri and Bela for years.

 

JOHN LOPEZ: He’s got that top hat, P.T. Barnum streak in his soul, and it’s never going to leave. I mean, there’s no question. He knew that this was his moment too, you know, and maybe that’s unfair, but in his heart he really felt like Kerri needed to be carried out there because she deserved it and she earned it. He loved, he loved what she did. She was always overshadowed. He was always like, oh, you know, Kerri, you know, she’s always been in the background, so he knew her struggles. So the romantic in him was like, we got to carry her out here. And then the kind of the flamboyant salesman in him was like, hey I’m gonna to carry her out there. So it was both things.

 

[AP Archive

Crowd: Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri! Kerri!]

 

KERRI STRUG: There’s no question that he was the face of USA gymnastics and he did like the cameras. But I think that benefited all of us, to be honest.

[AP Archive

Bela Karolyi: The most important thing the United States of America became the number one powerhouse in women’s gymnastics. Yeah!]

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: The U.S. had won the team gold. They were, as Bela had proclaimed, the number one powerhouse in women’s gymnastics.

And Kerri was their new number one star.


She hadn’t known this when she sprinted down the runway to take her final vault, but the U.S. had already clinched the gold.

Dominique didn’t know that. The fans in the arena didn’t know. The millions of people who would watch a tape delayed broadcast wouldn’t know. But once the final Russian score posted, the math showed that Dominique’s score, despite her two falls, would have been enough.

 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: And I was so sad. I was just like, I don’t think I made my dad proud. But um, you know, just feel like, what’s my dad gonna say about my vaults? 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: Instead of being proud of all she’d done to help secure the team gold, 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu felt like a failure. The girl who fell twice.

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: It was, you know, like Martha and Bela completely forgot that I existed and they didn’t care because I couldn’t land that vault and somehow I was weaker in their minds. 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: For the first two days of competition, Bela and Martha were all in on their star. Then, in the space of a few minutes, they had tossed her aside. 

DOMINIQUE MOCEANU: They didn’t even say goodbye to me at the Olympics. They just left. It was like the end and it was just like abandonment.

[NBC Sports

Announcer: Bela and Martha Karolyi, husband and wife and what a coaching team they are.

Bela Karolyi: The last time.

Martha Karoyli: Last time.

Bela Karolyi: Yes.

Martha Karolyi: Last time. Last time for good.

Bela Karolyi: 20 years ago, the big one. 

Announcer: 20 years ago, the big one. That was when Nadia won gold. And I think I heard them say, Tim, that they’re retiring.]

 

ALYSSA ROENIGK: This time it was for real. The Karolyis were leaving elite gymnastics on their own terms — on top. They were selling their Houston gym and moving full-time to The Ranch, where they would continue to host summer camps and travel to coach at clinics.

 

USA Gymnastics was riding an all-time wave of popularity. The women’s team final was the highest-rated night of Olympic coverage in 20 years. The Magnificent Seven landed on the Wheaties box. They did exhibition tours. 

 

And the world at large, couldn’t get enough of Bela. “You can do it!” was everywhere. 


It even got the Saturday Night Live treatment.

 

[Saturday Night Live

Mark McKinney (as Bela Karolyi): Come Kippy. Come on. You can do it. You can do it. 

Chris Kattan (as Kerri Strug): No I can’t. 

Kerri Strug: Do it Kippy, do it. 

Chris Kattan: Wait, you can’t hit me.

Mark McKinney: No! Kippy, listen to me. You can do it. Shake it off, Kippy. Shake it off. 

Chris Kattan: I can’t concentrate when you yell at me. 

Kerri Strug: Shake it off! 

Mark McKinney: Shake it off! 

Kerri Strug: Shake it off!

Mark McKinney: Shake it off!

Chris Kattan: I’m okay… USA! (applause) ]


ALYSSA ROENIGK: Bela Karolyi was big time. It’s hard to imagine any gymnastics coach ever again having that kind of impact. 

 

JOHN LOPEZ: The stars would all have to align, you know, for anyone to match what he did. Bela was synonymous with the sport going into ‘96. He was bigger than the sport coming out. You can do it! … that is Bela Karolyi.

 

If you or someone you know has been subjected to sexual assault or abuse, and you would like more information or support, these hotlines can help: RAINN’s 24/7 confidential national sexual assault hotline  1-800-656-4673, ChildHelp 1-800-4-A-Child/ 1-800-422-4453 and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

 

 

Credits

Heavy Medals

Alyssa Roenigk, Host and Reporter
Bonnie Ford, Reporter
Andrew Mambo and Meradith Hoddinott, Producers
Julia Lowrie Henderson, Senior Editorial Producer
Erin Leyden and Libby Geist, Executive Producers
Mitra Kaboli,  Mix Engineering and Sound Design
Reilly Bloom, Gus Navarro, Samantha Dowd, and Trevor Gill, Production Assistants
Louise Argianas, Cath Sankey, and Jennifer Thorpe, Production Management and Licensing
Ian Coss, Original Composition
Connor Schell, Rob King, & Alison Overholt, Executive Producers for ESPN
This podcast was developed by Jenna Anthony and Adam Neuhaus, with help from Jody Avirgan
Julianna Brannum, Archival Producer
John Mastroberardino provided fact checking
Terri Langford did legal research
Additional Production support from: Amy Van Deusen and Eve Wulf
This season of 30 for 30 Podcasts was produced in association with espnW.


ESPN Audio
Tom Ricks
, Vice President, Audio Digital Strategy & Marketing
Megan Judge, Director, Audio Distribution & Marketing
Pete Gianesini, Senior Director, Audio Production
Ryan Granner, Director, Digital Audio Operations

Additional Production Support
Vin D’Anton, Brandon Nix, Neel Danesha, Ryan Ross Smith, Claire Jones, Adrienne St Clair, Ryan Weaver,
Michael Castaneda, Anny Celsi, Talia Carlene Blake, Lauren Ober, Ruth Eddy, Wayne Ramocan (Juuni), Tasha French, Diana Nygent, Kateleigh Mills

Special Thanks
Pat Alexander, Bill Archer, Cora Bagoli, John Barr, David Barron, Dr. Dan Benardot, Cosmin Bogdan, Aimee Boorman,
Jen Brown, Mike Canales, Don Carlson, Ray Deenihan, Tom Forster, Ashley Fox, Wendy Hilliard, Barbara Kievit-Mason, Sarah Klein, Sandy Knapp, Cecile Landi, Laurent Landi, Mike Lynch, Kevin Mazeika, Phil Moseley, Dan Murphy,
Ryan Nantell, Jessica O’Beirne, Angie Povilaitis, Gary Rafaloski, Tony Retrosi, Keith Romer, RJ Santillo,
Susan Polakoff Shaw, Michelle Simpson Tuegel, Jolene Van Vugt, Paul Ziert , ESPN LA, and ESPN NY

 

Archival Material
Audio provided courtesy of:
ABC13 Houston
AP Archive/Press Association
Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation 
CBC Licensing
With Permission from The Estate of Clerow “Flip” Wilson
Phoenix Learning Group (Coronet Instructional Films)
Gymternet Media LLC (GymCastic podcast)
Harpo, Inc.
IOC/USOPC
The Kansas City Star. © 2019 McClatchy. All rights reserved. Used under license.
KHOU-TV Houston, TX
“Gymnastics Fun with Bela Karolyi” courtesy of Lions Gate Films Inc. 
NBC News Archives
Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. (KXAN)
Seven Network. All rights reserved. © 
Universal Television LLC 
WDIV/Local 4
WTHR-TV Indianapolis, IN