Name of Book: Off Balance: A Memoir
By: Dominique Moceanu, Paul and Teri Williams
Copyright Date: June 12, 2012
Format: nonfiction, memoir
Reason for Reading: I ❤ gymnastics, I ❤ the Olympics, I ❤ the ‘Magnificent Seven’
Dominique Moceanu, gymnast extraordinaire (youngest American gymnast to win Olympic gold, part of the Magnificent Seven), gives us an inside look at what life is really like for an Elite gymnast striving to reach the Olympics.
I was pretty much sold on this once I learned that it was Dominique’s book. First, it’s gymnastics, people. Second it’s DOMINIQUE MOCEANU. I am a child of the eighties. I <3<3<3 gymnastics growing up. (I still do.) I did gymnastics, I competed at Level Four before my parents pulled me out a year later (I wasn’t even close to making it to Elite level, haha). I even harbored a brief Olympic dream of my own when I was in the midst of it. While watching Team USA win gold this summer, I couldn’t help but think back to ’96. Now, everyone may be saying that this was the best US women’s team ever, I would have to respectfully disagree. Don’t get me wrong. They did a fantastic job. They were solid on all of their routines, which definitely helped cement the win. But I am still nostalgic for my 92-96 gymnasts. They had such elegance and flair. Dominique herself had such personality on the floor! Her Atlanta routine was my favorite. I loved them all though: the amazing Shannon, elegant, long-limbed Dominique Dawes, Kim Zmeskal and her whipbacks. But I digress. Now that you know of my huge gymnastics love, you can certainly see where my biases lie.
Dominique Moceanu is the daughter of Romanian immigrants. Her parents grew up under the dictator communist regime, which greatly influenced their lives, and in turn, Dominique’s. Her parents were both gymnasts and as soon as Dominique showed an aptitude for the sport, her parents did everything they could to help her fulfill all of their Olympic dreams, which included uprooting the family from Tampa to Houston for Dominique to train under Bela Karolyi.
Dominique’s story exposes the seedy underbelly beneath the sparkly façade. I only watch the sport, I am not really aware of the politics and the bureaucracy that exists within the organization. However, Dominique’s memoir shines a light on this. The Karolyis have inordinate amount of power within USA Gymnastics. They effectively got her blackballed when she tried to comeback at age 24, putting her through hoops, giving her the runaround and then throwing in stipulations after the fact. Not only do the Karolyis wield tremendous power, but their training methods are questionable. There are stories about the way he treated the gymnasts when he coached in Romania. The outright physical abuse doesn’t fly in America, but the Karolyis are well-versed in humiliation tactics and emotional abuse. However, they took advantage of Dominique’s Romanian background. Dominique’s parents gave all of their power over to the Karolyis, which meant that the Karolyis were able to get away with things with her that they could not with the other gymnasts. Also, it was just distasteful to learn that the equipment they trained on was plain shoddy and they would tell the girls, if they even dared to voice any pain, that they were making it up, that they were just being lazy and didn’t want to train, which of course, worsened their injuries due to a lack of treatment. I was pretty floored by the level of fear the Karolyis instilled in their gymnasts.
Honestly, learning about how the Karolyis treat their star gymnasts made me feel really sad and more than a little duped. Ok, I felt betrayed. As a child, I loved the Karolyis. They always smiled and seemed to love their gymnasts. Bela was the coach of Nadia Comaneci who was my IDOL growing up. I met her twice and even had a true blue conversation with her. (My nerd is now showing.) I believed that he was good, that the gymnasts had a caring, supportive coach on their side. But, it’s all about the cameras. I understand that Dominique had it much worse than the other girls, but I can imagine that it wasn’t necessarily a picnic for them either.
The other big revelation of the book was that Dominique’s parents gave up a child for adoption when Dominique was six. Neither she nor her younger sister Christina ever knew about it until Dominique received a certified letter from said sister when she was weeks away from giving birth from her first child. Talk about timing! The story alternates between Dominique’s childhood gymnastic days and the time period where she found out about her sister. I am undecided if I like this format or not. It may bother other readers as it is a bit more disjointed. However, it does somewhat heighten the drama of the story going back and forth in this way.
Overall, I ate this one up. I devoured it in a day and then stayed up much too late looking up my gymnastics idols on YouTube.
Revealing memoir of what it takes to become an Olympic champion. This one is definitely for the die-hard gymnastics fans and memoir lovers.