As a member of the “Magnificent Seven” U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team that dominated the 1996 Olympics, Dominique Moceanu was a major part of our childhood entertainment. In a recent interview, though, she spoke about the “abusive” training she faced back then and how today’s gymnasts may have similar experiences.
As the Rio Olympics come to an end, Moceanu—who became America’s youngest gold-medal Olympian—spoke to People about the emotionally toiling training she experienced at the hands of her coaches Martha and Béla Károlyi, something Moceanu has talked about in the past.
“The methods they used of threats and body shaming and humiliation as a tactic to motivate you to perform better, or calling you names of being fat or overweight were methods of physiological and emotional abuse,” says Moceanu. “I was 4'4", 75 lbs., and completely healthy, other than the emotional and psychological wear and tear, and the stress of constantly repeating movements where your body is breaking down.”
Moceanu, now 34, thinks gymnasts today might be worried about openly discussing poor training conditions for fear of repercussion.
One thing is certain, the female gymnasts competing at this year’s Rio Olympics seem notably more muscular than those in past years. “You have to have very, very powerful legs and a very powerful body these days to handle and keep up with the difficulty level that the sport requires,” says Moceanu. “But with that muscle mass they have to stay slender as well to do those skills and not injure themselves. So I think there is a happy medium and a nutritional way to do that.”
Moceanu says of Simone Biles—who handily won a record four gold medals at the Olympics as expected—“I know Simone Biles has a great relationship with her [head coach, Aimee Boorman]. Simone is not a numbers kid and she doesn’t do the repetition that we used to do. And she’s not all banged up, she’s not all taped up. Her spirit’s healthy, she’s smiling, she’s enjoying the sport, and that’s absolutely how it should be, and I’m so happy to see that.”