By RON NISSIMOV
Oct. 21, 1998
In 1996, 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu showed an
inner strength that belied her age by refusing to let a stress fracture
keep her from competing in the Olympics Games in Atlanta.
But masked beneath her steely eyes, a different
kind of stress was taking its toll.
The pressure of being driven by her parents to be an Olympic athlete
since she was 3 years old finally got to Moceanu this weekend. On
Monday, at age 17, she filed a lawsuit in state district court in
Houston asking to be declared a legal adult so her parents would
not have control over her -- or her money. According to the suit,
Moceanu's father, Dumitru Moceanu, has squandered the money she
has earned in her professional career, which started at age 10.
judge signed a temporary restraining order Monday, saying her parents
must stay away from Moceanu -- who ran away from her parents' north
Harris County home on Sunday -- until a hearing is conducted Nov.
11 on her requested adult status. An ad litem attorney was appointed
by the court to represent her interests.
But in an interview Tuesday, Moceanu said the problem
is about much more than money.
"I never had a childhood," Moceanu said
sadly, a change from the intense confidence she normally projects
from her five-foot frame. "When I went to compete when I was
young, I always was in fear because I would get yelled at by my
father, and I would say to myself, `I'm 13 years old, come on,'
" she said. "Instead of talking to me, they're always
yelling with me, fighting with me," she said.
Although such sentiments are probably those of
any teen-ager, she said her life has been far from typical.
"It always had to be about the gym,"
Moceanu said about her relationship with her parents. "I would
think, `Don't you guys know anything besides gymnastics? Can't we
go out for ice cream? Can't you be my mom and dad instead of me
being your business?'
"Things have been getting rough for a while,
a lot of people don't know," Moceanu said. "We've been
trying to keep things hidden." She said her father has hit
her "a couple of times."
Moceanu's father, who spent some of Moceanu's earnings
opening a gym last year, declined to comment. Her mother, Camelia
Moceanu, could not be reached for comment. Moceanu said her parents,
who are Romanian immigrants, are very upset about what has happened.
Moceanu and her lawyer, Roy W. Moore, declined
to say how much money she has made and how much they think has been
lost. Her lawsuit said a trust that had been established for her
is all but gone. Moceanu said her father has made some poor investments
with the money, such as buying property that is polluted.
"I kill myself training and going to school,
and what is he doing with my money?" she said. "They haven't
been working since 1996. Where does their income come from? Me."
Moore said her parents have refused to answer his
client's questions about where her money has gone. He said all that
she needs to prove to receive adult status is that she is living
away from her parents and can support herself. Once she has the
status, Moore said, Moceanu will be able to demand through legal
channels to see an accounting of her money.
Moceanu was born in Los Angeles in 1981, and she
and her parents moved to the Houston area in 1990 so she could train
with famed gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi.
She said she has been "living like a fugitive"
the last couple of days, moving from house to house to make sure
her parents can't find her.
Moceanu, the only member of the 1996 U.S. gold
medal women's gymnastics team still competing in all gymnastics
events, said being away from her parents will help her focus on
"I've been trying to block it out, but with
school and everything I just didn't want this to affect me any more,"
She said she hopes to compete in the world championship
games in China next year and possibly in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
But her plans to participate in a competition in Australia in two
weeks may have to be scrapped, she said.
Moceanu said she reached her breaking point
Saturday after her father angrily said he would fire her coach, Luminita
Miscenco, 26, whom Moceanu credits with helping turn her career around.
In August, Moceanu became the first non-Russian to win the all-around
competition in the Goodwill Games.
Moceanu said her father brought Miscenco from Romania early this year
so she could teach at his gym, but he became threatened by Miscenco
because she helped Moceanu understand she should be concerned about
her finances, the young gymnast said.
According to Moceanu, she told her father Saturday
that she would quit if he fired Miscenco, and he replied, "Fine,
you're just going to have to quit gymnastics.' "
She said her father threatened to take actions
to have Miscenco deported to Romania. "I told her, `We're going
to stick together, I'm not going to let you go,' " Moceanu
Moceanu said she has been thinking about taking
legal action for some time. She said during a meet in Plano last
summer, retired gymnast Kurt Thomas told her she should think about
where her money is going. She said she called her mother to discuss
the matter, and her father immediately drove to the north Texas
city to bring her back.
Moceanu, a senior at the private Northland Christian
School, said she has only had one chaperoned date in her life and
has to hide from her father when she calls friends on the phone.
She stressed that none of her actions had been
motivated by any relationship with a boyfriend and no one has pressured
her, but that she is doing it all on her own.
She said she has a 9-year-old sister who is also
training in gymnastics, and doesn't want to see her sister have
the same problems.
"I love my parents," Moceanu said. "I
hope that after all this is over, we'll be closer than ever. That
would be my dream."