A Disappointed Moceanu Talks of Leaving Gymnastics


When his daughter was six months old, Dominique Moceanu’s father hung the toddler from a clothesline. It was a test and Moceanu passed. She held on. She was strong enough and fearless enough to be a gymnast.

Ever since, gymnastics has offered Moceanu both incredible joy and total despair. In 1995 Moceanu was the youngest national champion, a 13-year-old small enough to stuff in your pocket.

A year later she was on the cover of Vanity Fair, America’s littlest sweetheart, the youngest, tiniest member of the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team, the one with the biggest smile.

But Moceanu never won the individual medals that were expected. She had suffered a stress fracture in her leg two months before the Atlanta Games and struggled through the meet. Two years later, Moceanu was involved in an ugly, public split with her father, a split about the squandering of her money and control of her future.


The family is reunited.

But Wednesday night, after trying to make a gymnastics comeback, a comeback she said was for all the right reasons, for love of the sport and competition, Moceanu had to withdraw from the U.S. Olympic trials because of bone chips in her right knee.

Moceanu, 18, had to talk Thursday about retirement when all she wanted to do was be out on the Fleet Center floor, practicing with the 14 others who are in the running for the Olympic team.

“I’m really sad right now,” she said, “but at this point in my life, it just happens to be this way. At least I gave this a shot and I don’t have to look back and say I didn’t try.”

Moceanu had grown nearly six inches from 1996 and spent an aimless year during the controversy with her father, Dumitru, traveling from coach to coach.

Besides accusations from his daughter that Dumitru had squandered more than $1 million in the building of his own gym, police authorities in Texas had heard that Dumitru threatened to have two of Moceanu’s coaches killed.

“I guess I’ve been dealt a big deck of cards in my life and at such a young age,” Moceanu said. “I don’t know why things do happen, but I know they happen for a reason. I’ve got to have faith and hope that everything will work out for the best.”

It seemed that Moceanu’s troubles started in 1997 when her coach, Bela Karolyi, retired. Dumitru opened a gym in Houston, using his daughter as advertisement.


About eight months ago Moceanu moved to Cincinnati to train with coach Mary Lee Tracy. She found happiness in the gym again.

On Wednesday Tracy had talked of how content Moceanu seemed and how well her training had gone since the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago, where Moceanu placed eighth.

“Dominique had upgraded her vaulting,” Tracy said, “and had just trained incredibly well. It had been a fun ride with her the last two weeks, getting ready to be here. We got here Tuesday, she went to her first event and showed her new vault. She was very happy and excited.”

But Moceanu had had tenderness in the knee that she didn’t mention. It is what gymnasts do, train in pain. Don’t be a baby, they’re told.


On Tuesday during training, Moceanu’s knee gave out. On Wednesday it gave out again. An MRI showed a loose bone chip. A year ago Moceanu had surgery on the same knee.

“Dominique and I sat down,” Tracy said, “to decide whether it was worth the risk or not. It came down to the fact that it wasn’t even an issue of risk. Her body wouldn’t let her do this.

“The sad part is that she put so much into this. It’s been a long haul and in a quick amount of time Dominique had done an incredible job of training.”

Moceanu sought comfort with some of her 1996 teammates. Jaycie Phelps, who withdrew from the trials because of an injury, and Amanda Borden, who is here working for television, put their arms around Moceanu on Wednesday night. Shannon Miller, who is trying for her third Olympic team, gave Moceanu a big hug Thursday morning.


“These are my family,” Moceanu said, “and they’ve made me feel so much better.”


Two-time Olympian John Roethlisberger, 30, had a disastrous night--he fell off the high bar, landed on his backside on his vault and took a hard fall on the floor exercise--to fall into seventh place after the preliminary round of the men’s trials.

With scores from last month’s U.S. Nationals counting for 40% and the two rounds of the trials the other 60% of the makeup of the Olympic team, Roethlisberger, who was considered a sure thing a month ago, is in a precarious position. The top four competitors are guaranteed spots on the six-man team with the coaching staff choosing the final two athletes.


National all-around champion Blaine Wilson was the only gymnast to complete six clean routines. Wilson scored a nearly perfect 9.95 on the rings and 9.90 on the vault.

Paul Hamm, 17, was a strong and surprising second while his identical twin brother, Morgan, was in sixth place going into Saturday’s finals.