Olympian shares secrets with young gymnasts
Wednewday, 10/13/04, 7:30am
By MIKE HODGE
OCALA - Once upon a time,
all the world was a stage. When you thirst for first, fame follows.
For the record, she was youngest American gymnast
- win a gold medal in the Olympics;
- win a senior national championship;
- compete at the world championships;
- earn a spot on the national team.
Dominique Moceanu, foreground,
works with Katie Olson, 14, at Balcony Gymnastics in
Ocala on Tuesday. (click
picture to enlarge)
Let's see. She's met the president, made the cover
of Vanity Fair and been featured on a Wheaties box. Is there anything
left on Dominique Moceanu's to-do list?
Life has slowed to a leisurely pace since Atlanta.
She no longer toils. When she's not in college, she coaches, traveling
around the country telling her story to anyone who will listen.
She molds and motivates; preaches and prods; sells and soothes.
Balcony Gymnastics welcomed her this week. Kids
tumbled more than they stumbled, but strong, sure arms were there
to guide them.
"I've come to a point in my life that I can
appreciate the sport on a different level," Moceanu said Tuesday
while taking a break between sips of bottled water. "Because
I teach it, I appreciate how difficult it is. I try to inspire the
kids. That's wonderful to me to give back so much. For me, what's
important is I can still do tours. That's the fun part for me now."
Moceanu's clinic is scheduled to last three days.
She arrived Monday evening and is expected to leave early Thursday
"To have her at our gym is extremely special,"
Michael Hamer, owner of Balcony Gymnastics, said. "We just
don't give our kids over to anyone. When we do give them to someone,
we want to give them to the best."
For $250, area gymnasts received one-on-one world-class
instruction for their floor routines. Jenny Williamson, 12, of Gainesville,
paced in the lobby as she waited for her session. So many questions.
So little time.
"It's like, 'Wow.' Where do you start?"
Williamson said. "There are so many things. I wouldn't be able
to say there's just one thing I would ask."
Kendal Hamer, 10, of Ocala, took a lesson and
gobbled up a memento. An autographed picture of Moceanu is tacked
to her bedroom wall.
With guidance from 1996 Olympic
gymnist Dominique Moceanu, Katie Olson, 14, perfects
her floor routine at Balcony Gymnastics Tuesday. Moceanu
is spending the week at the gym helping and teaching
ten of the advanced students for their upcoming meets.
(click picture to enlarge)
"It was fun," Hamer said. "I thought
it was going to be easy, but it was hard learning the floor routine.
We had to do it over and over."
Moceanu, 23, knows her sport - she started tumbling
at age 3 - but her passion continues to simmer.
"For someone who's almost 24, you don't usually
see that kind of work ethic," said Hamer, who met Moceanu at
a gymnastics camp. "She was here at 8:30 in the morning and
she hasn't stopped since."
Her teaching philosophy centers on a path to self
worth. Gymnastics is not the only vehicle.
"I tell the kids: Do this for yourself,"
Moceanu said. "No matter what you're doing, be the best that
you possibly can be at it, whether it's academics, gymnastics or
another sport. It doesn't matter what it is. Give your heart, never
give up and finish what you start. I like kids to finish, because
I think that teaches a good lesson."
Moceanu learned to master the basics from Bela
Karolyi, the world-renowned coach known for precision and productivity.
"He taught me how to be perfect," Moceanu
said. "That's very difficult to do. It was almost like boarding
The idea of coaching came from Moceanu's mother,
Camelia, who encouraged the career move. However, Moceanu has not
always been receptive to parental advice. Two years after the Olympic
victory, Moceanu, then 17, filed a lawsuit against her parents to
gain control over her trust fund.
Six years later, Moceanu said the family has reconciled.
"My parents and I are doing great. We're fantastic,"
she said. "Underneath it all, we always did (have a good relationship).
The media blew it out of proportion. Sunny days and flowers don't
sell stories. That's the bottom line. People want the dirt. Yeah,
my dad was tough on me. Because of my parents, that's why I became
an Olympic champion. Yeah, when I was 17, I wanted freedom and I
wanted control of my finances. I wanted to be an adult, because
I was always living in an adult's word and I was a kid. I grew up
very fast. There's nothing wrong with that. My dad and I had some
Injuries to her knee and shoulder ruined a chance
for a second consecutive Olympics at Sydney in 2000. So for two
years, Moceanu did what 18-year-olds do. Ate at Taco Bell. Stayed
out late. Got up late. Did what she wanted when she wanted, astonishing
freedom for an athlete whose childhood was micromanaged toward Olympic
"I try to stay humble," Moceanu said.
"I can't have it all. I won a gold at 14. That's pretty darned
good. I let myself relax a little bit. I accomplished what I wanted."
The highlight of her career came at age 14 when
she helped the U.S. to team gold at the 1996 Olympics. The winning
squad was known as the Magnificent Seven - Amy Chow, Jaycie Phelps,
Dominique Dawes, Amanda Borden, Shannon Miller, Kerri Strug and
"My fondest memory was when I was on the podium,"
Moceanu said. "Winning the gold and having it strapped around
our necks and having the flag raised, the U.S. flag being raised
for the first time in history. That had never been done by a U.S.
Olympic women's team. We were first. We made history on July 23,
1996. That was it. That was the moment. My life changed after that
Contact Mike Hodge can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org or 867-4148.
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