Off Balance

Reading Dominique Moceanu’s memoir (especially the bit about the Karolyis happily calling her father so he could beat her for messing up or weighing more than 63 pounds, a perk that most of the American athletes missed out on) is completely heartbreaking. And her account of the two failed vaults (on a stress fracture) in 1996 makes you burn in empathy:

I kept walking and Marta stepped into my path.

“Two times? Too bad,” Marta said, making sure I knew just how badly I’d messed up. She could see that I was already lower than low. She clasped the back of my neck tightly with her fingers and squeezed that trademark Marta “you messed up” squeeze. I absolutely cringed every time she did this in training when she was angry at me, but here at the Olympic Games, it was worst of all. As she held my neck with the one hand, she pressed her other hand to my forehead for a second and shot a sharp, disappointed glare into my eyes. And that was that. Marta and Bela barely said anything else to me that day or for the rest of the night. They acted as if they didn’t know me, as if I were invisible. I took it hard. It was naive of me, but I thought somewhere deep down, Bela and Marta cared for me at least enough to give me some scintilla of support after I’d fallen in front of millions.

There’s also a really powerful moment in which she finds out that the reason the Karolyis are kinder to Kerri Strug is that Kerri Strug’s parents told them to treat her better, or they would find a new trainer, and the idea was so alien to Moceanu she could barely process it.

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