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Hall of Fame gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and his wife Martha face fresh allegations of physical and psychological abuse of young female athletes dating to the 1960s in a newly published book, according to the Daily Mail.
Romanian author Stejarel Olaru wrote in “Nadia si Securitatea” that Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci – the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics, in 1976 – is among the victims who were starved to the point of developing eating disorders, slapped, and denied medical treatment, according to the report.
Comaneci was Bela Karolyi’s first prodigy and his gateway to defecting to America in 1981.
Bela was the individual coach for 1984 all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton and head coach of the United States national team for the 1992 Olympics. Martha was in charge for the gold medal-winning 1996 team. But it was Bela, as a trainer for Kerri Strug, who gained fame for keeping Strug composed and encouraged on an ankle injury as she aced the vault that clinched gold. He later carried her off the mat to the podium.
The abuse claims in the new book are based off old files from the Securitate, Romania’s communist-era secret police force.
‘Starving the gymnasts was a regular practice by the Karolyis,’ Olaru wrote, according to the report. “’The girls ate toothpaste at night before going to bed — this is how hungry they were. In some cases they talked about drinking water from the toilet tank in secret, because they were often not allowed to drink water.
“Some ended up suffering from bulimia. They became expert in stealing food, which they hid in places they thought no one would discover, like the hem of the curtain.”
Comaneci claimed she had been slapped and starved for up to three consecutive days in a previously unpublished interview included in the book, according to the report. It alleges Bela Karolyi ate meals, including steak and fries, in front of the allegedly under-fed athletes.
Asked about the claims in the book, Comaneci, now 59 and living in Oklahoma, told The Times in London, “I was aware of [Olaru’s] project and his research on the secret police files and informers. I told him that my whole memory is in the book I wrote, ‘Letters to a Young Gymnast.’ Nothing more to add. Life goes on.”
The AFP news agency contacted Bela Karolyi, about the allegations.
“By nature I am never satisfied,” Karolyi replied, according to the Daily Mail. “It’s never enough, never. My gymnasts are the best prepared in the world. And they win. That’s all that counts.”
The Karolyis face lawsuits in the United States alleging forms of abuse and turning a blind eye to team doctor Larry Nassar as he sexually abused gymnasts. Nassar is a convinced sex offender and serial rapist serving a life sentence for child pornography and abusing hundreds of women through his various positions as a gymnastics doctor.
The Karolyis counter-sued USA Gymnastics seeking damages for the cancelled sale of their training facilities on a ranch in Texas – where Nassar committed some of his crimes – as well as claims they are not liable for Nassar’s actions.
Bela Karolyi and Comaneci went on an 11-city United States tour in 1981 that earned $250,000 for Romania but just $1,000 for the young gymnast, according to the report. Karolyi sought and received political asylum during the tour.
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