A former Olympic gymnast has spoken out to slam the ‘abuse’ she endured at the hands of her Team USA coaches, while detailing the long-lasting ‘damage’ their ‘dangerous’ tactics have left her with – more than two decades after she helped her team to win gold at the 1996 Games.
Dominique Moceanu, now 39, was just 14 years old when she competed for the US at the Olympics in Atlanta as a member of the gold-winning Magnificent Seven.
But while many remember the team – which included stars like Kerri Strug, Dominique Dawes, and Shannon Miller – for their historic gold medal win, Moceanu is now revealing the horrific ‘abuse’ they were being subjected to behind the scenes.
Speaking to DailyMail.com, the retired Ohio-based gymnast, who now runs her own training center and was recently named as a spokesperson for nutrition company Purely Inspired, recalled how she was routinely labeled ‘fat’ by her coaches, who, she says, restricted her food intake while subjecting her to physical and emotional ‘abuse’.
‘Our coaches told us, don’t eat, you’re fat,’ she shared. ‘That’s not what you tell a prepubescent teen. It’s so damaging.
‘I was told to starve myself by my coaches, and any time I performed poorly, they said it was because I was fat.
Former Team USA gymnast Dominique Moceanu, who won gold at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, has spoken out about the ‘abuse’ she endured at the hands of her coaches
Moceanu, now 39, was just 14 years old when she competed as part of the gold-medal-winning Magnificent Seven team, which was coached by Bela (pictured) and Marta Karolyi
‘I would sit with my coaches at dinner and I couldn’t even put my hands on any bread, I couldn’t ask for any more food, and I couldn’t eat what was actually in front of me.’
In the wake of Olympian Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from five event finals in Tokyo amid struggles with her mental health, Moceanu also shared a worrying video from her own experience at the Games, in which she is seen crashing onto her head while tripping over during the balance beam final.
But more worrying than the incident itself was her coaches’ handling of it, she says.
The gymnast spoke to DailyMail.com about the lasting ‘damage’ she sustained as a result of her ‘abusive’ coaches tactics, while celebrating her new partnership with nutrition company Purely Inspired
Moceanu, who went into the 1996 Olympics having sustained a stress fracture to her tibia, claims she was given no real medical assistance following the fall, and was then made to compete on the floor exercise ‘minutes later’.
‘I was 14 [years old with] a tibial stress fracture, left alone [with] no cervical spine exam after this fall,’ she revealed, while sharing a video that shows her tripping on the beam and falling onto her neck and head, while then-head coach Bela Karolyi watched on.
‘I competed in the Olympic floor final minutes later. [Simone Biles’] decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health — “a say” I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.’
Moceanu was one of the first leading ladies of the sport to speak out about the ‘abusive’ tactics being employed by former Team USA head coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi – and she says that her outspoken criticism of the couple led to her being ‘blacklisted’ by USA Gymnastics.
In 2008, she did an interview with HBO in which she first revealed the lasting ‘damage’ of the ‘abuse’ – claiming that she sustained multiple injuries as a result of unnecessary physical stress.
Moceanu recently shared video of herself crashing onto her head after slipping over on the beam during the final at the Olympics – revealing she was given no medical exam after the fall
She praised gymnastics GOAT Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from five finals in Tokyo, saying that she never felt that she ‘had a say in her own health as an Olympian’
Moceanu became the youngest ever US gymnast to win Olympic gold when she helped her team to clinch the gold in Atlanta in 1996
While the revelations certainly attracted plenty of attention, shedding light on the ‘dark side’ of gymnastics from the perspective one of its own stars for the first time, the decision to speak out also saw Moceanu subjected to what she describes as a ‘smear campaign’ by USAG.
At the time, the organization’s then-president Steve Penny defended the Karolyis against Moceanu’s claims, insisting: ‘The Karolyis have contributed a great deal to the success of our athletes over the years and continue to do so.’
Elsewhere, was publicly accused of lying and of trying to gain attention and money by speaking out.
‘I felt so alone and defeated [because] there was nobody [else] coming to do the interview and do what it takes,’ she recalled. ‘It was emotionally exhausting.
‘[USA Gymnastics] blacklisted me, hurt my image, my reputation.
‘It’s not just stuff that was made up, people tried to make me look crazy, like I was making it up. That’s not the case.
‘It was very damaging. [USAG] hurt me in ways I can’t even describe.
‘They said I was lying. Now [people] know that I wasn’t. It’s time for them to stop brushing everything under the rug.’
Moceanu says that the lasting ‘damage’ caused by her treatment by USAG coaches has taken decades to try and overcome, revealing that she ‘had to work very long and very hard finding out how to be healthy’, having spent so many years being ‘taught’ to restrict her food intake so severely.
Moceanu competed at the Olympics alongside other gymnastics legends like Kerri Strug, Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller as part of the history-making Magnificent Seven
She first accused the Karolyis (pictured) of emotional and physical ‘abuse’ back in 2008, but says she was ‘blacklisted’ by USAG as a result, insisting her claims were ‘swept under the rug’
‘When someone is watching you eat, it causes you to have a warped relationship with food,’ she explained.
Moceanu’s claims about the treatment she endured at the hands of Team USA’s coaching couple comes amid a time of serious reckoning for USA Gymnastics, which has been mired in furious scandal over its handling of the Larry Nassar abuse case.
Nassar, a former national team doctor, is currently serving up to 175 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually abusing more than 150 gymnasts during his 30-year career.
In the wake of his sentencing, dozens of gymnasts have spoken out about the way in which USAG handled his abuse and the resulting scandal, with two-time Olympian Biles leading the charge against the organization, insisting that it ‘failed’ her and all of the many other athletes who were assaulted by Nassar.
‘[USAG has] failed so many athletes,’ Biles said during an interview with 60 Minutes earlier this year. ‘And most of us underage.
‘You guys don’t think that’s a bigger problem? Like, if that were me and I knew something I’d want it resolved immediately.’
Although Moceanu says she has seen notable changes to the way in which the organization now treats its athletes, she insists that much of it has come too little, too late, adding that she still believes she is owed a public apology by USAG.
‘It took 30+ years to get here and it’s going to take a long time to undo all of the damage. It’s not going to happen overnight,’ she said, addressing USAG. ‘You guys have to build trust and earn it. When trust is broken for so many years and you’ve broken so many people and gymnasts.
Moceanu (pictured in her Purely Inspired campaign) now runs her own gymnastics training center, where she says she is focused on promoting a healthy, balanced lifestyle
The mother-of-two (pictured with her children) admitted that it took years to overcome the ‘warped relationship’ she had with food after her time on Team USA
‘It’s the 25th anniversary of [the Magnificent Seven’s] Olympic gold and I think I am owed a public apology by USAG.
‘That would be a really good thing. Privately is one thing, but publicly is another.’
She also warned that real change is not going to happen until those people who have been working within the organization for decades take a step back, claiming that there are still members who are unable to ‘change their habits’.
‘ Certain people who have been at the top of this sport in elite coaching have been there for so long,’ she said – although she declined to name specific examples.
‘When you get older, it’s harder to change your habits. They don’t even see themselves as doing anything wrong – when you can’t even recognize and acknowledge, there’s going to be a long road ahead of us.
‘It’s an uphill battle that some people don’t want to recognize.’
Moceanu is now a mother-of-two and runs her own gymnastics training center, where she says she prioritizes a healthy, balanced lifestyle for all of her athletes – proving that there ‘is a better way’ to coach rising sports stars.
‘We have to develop a new culture that doesn’t speak to children [about starving themselves],’ she said. ‘You have to make sure you’re fueling your engine right. I’m not going to tell [my gymnasts] how and what to eat.
‘If they have questions, I will guide them to a nutritionist, to someone who has the knowledge to advise them properly.
‘Your body is your engine and what you’re fueling it up with is extremely important,’ she added – while crediting Purely Inspired’s products for helping her to step up her own health routine.
‘I use the products every day,’ she added.
DailyMail.com has reached out to USA Gymnastics for comment.