gymnastics has a new sweetheart, a soon - to - be 14 - year - old who's
being compared to legends of the sport
By: Mark Starr
( Dominique performing her floor routine
while wearing a red and white leotard ) On her toes: Little Dominique cavorts
across the mat at the U.S. national team
trials last month. ( A side - by - side comparison with a picture of a young Nadia Comaneci ) From '76 to '95: The Girls of Summer; ( under Nadia's picture it says ) Then: Nadia Comaneci; Birthplace: Onesti, Romania; Age: 14; Height: 4'11"; Weight: 83 lbs.; Coach: Bela Karolyi; Age Started: 6; Achievements: Three gold medals at the Montreal Olympics; ( under Dominique's picture ) Now: Dominique Moceanu; Birthplace: Hollywood, Calif.; Age: 13; Height: 4'5"; Weight: 70 lbs.; Age Started: 3; Achievements: U.S. National Champion. (Dominique practicing her bar routine. She's in the middle of a release move as
Bela is watching ) In practice, Moceanu flies above coach Karolyi. ( Dawes performing the floor routine; Shannon also practicing floor routine ) Separately, Dawes and Miller show off their floor exercises at the team trials. Now it's off to Japan for the world championships.
Bela Karolyi is anxious. his mustache
is twitching, his head bobbing, his body
shimmying. Across the floor, the gymnast who is the object of all this urgent
motion stands perfectly still. Even the ribbon in her ponytail seems frozen in
place. Finally Dominique Moceanu arches all of her 53 inches and 70 pounds
and charges down the runway. A dozen previous practice vaults have all been
flawed; she lacked thrust on takeoff or failed to hold her landing. But this
evening of practice does make perfect, and Bela's succinct narrative confirms
her achievement. " Yes. Yesss. YESSS! " The next night, she vaults even
better, landing a near - perfect 9.9 at the U.S. national team trials. The leap
propels her into first place - and just as important, into a smothering bearhug
from her famed coach, whose arms have trained and embraced the world's
For Dominique, and Bela, it has been
a season of hugs. last month, at the age
of 13, Moceanu made a stunning national - championship debut - vaulting,
tumbling and bouncing her way to the all - around gold medal. In becoming the
youngest American champion in history, she defeated two 18 - year - old stars,
Shannon Miller, a two - time world champion, and Dominique Dawes, who last
year had swept all five gold medals at the same event. As a result, next week
Moceanu will celebrated her 14th birthday at center stage of the world
championships in Japan.
Before she is 15, Dominique may command
the greatest sports stage of all.
Among the thousands of athletes who will parade into Atlanta' new Olympic
Stadium next summer, no one has a better shot at the kind of glory that only an
Olympics can render. Women's gymnastics have turned flexible little girls into
figures of international renown. They're known to legions of television viewers
by their first names. Nadia. Mary Lou. And now perhaps Dominique. "
Everyone's making such a big deal, " says Dominique. " But I'm trying not to
pay any attention. "
If there is a Gymnastics Gene, Dominique
has it. She's the Hollywood - born
daughter of two former Romanian gymnasts. And she bears a striking
resemblance to Karolyi's greatest protegee, Nadia Comaneci. In 1976, at 14,
Nadia stole the show at the Montreal Olympics with a three - gold - medal
performance. When Moceanu saw Nadia on tape for the first time a few years
ago, she thought, " Wow! We do look so much alike. " It is a comparison she
encourages by wearing, like Nadia, a pony - tail bound by a ribbon. ( Nadia's
was red and white, Dominique's a patriotic red, white, and blue. ) " The look, the
style is frighteningly similar, " says Karolyi.
The similarities, though, don't extend
to performing style. Comaneci was the
smoldering Romanian princess - so intense, self - contained and mysterious
that she was almost unaware of the crowd. " I grew up in a different system and
was taught to keep everything inside, " says Comaneci, who at times advises
Dominique. " She takes all her feelings outside. That's the American way. " In
that, Dominique resembles another of Karolyi's greatest stars, Mary Lou Retton. " We need to see the human emotion on the floor, not just the stunts, " he says. Dominique's performances are very playful - " she's like a little bird on a wire,
all the time fluttering and chirping and always playing to the crowd, " says the
coach. Dominique says that sometimes she has to remind herself to stop
smiling in order to concentrate on her routines.
She has been performing since infancy,
when her parents used to test her grip
by hanging her from a clothesline. They were so impressed by her innate ability
that when she was 3 years old, they phoned fellow expatriate Karolyi in
Houston and said they were ready to move there if he would take Dominique
on. " I told them, " Let her grow up a little first. Don't make any major family
sacrifice " . " When she was 9, the coach relented and the Moceanus were
Texas - bound. Less than a year later, she became the youngest gymnast ever
to make the U.S. Junior National Team. Comaneci didn't know who Dominique
was when she first watched the 10 - year - old compete. " Her gymnastics
weren't very good, but there was something sparkling in her face, " says Nadia.
" She was jumping and smiling and she had the biggest eyes. "
Dominique's ascent in just one season
from junior champion to national
champion has derailed Karolyi's plan " to sneak up from behind: in the Olympic
year. Bela hoped Dominique might finish a solid second or third at the
nationals, thus reining in expectations for his young star. " I wanted to win
anyway, " she says. " So I went out and did my very best. " Still, Karolyi, who is
given to hyperbole and major enthusiasms, is reluctant to hype Dominique's
Olympic prospects. he has coached the last three American women champions
in the pre - Olympic year; two didn't even make the U.S. Olympic team, and the
third, Kim Zmeskal, the world champion and gold - medal favorite in Barcelona,
failed to win any individual medals. " I don't want to create an early sensation," Karolyi says. " I've seen the ones who peaked too early or got in a situation
where pressure turned into a destructive element. "
Pressure isn't Dominique's only foe.
For all her flair, she doesn't have the
refined technique of Miller, who has already won 13 medals in Olympic and
world competition, more than any American gymnast in history. Nor has she
yet demonstrated the consistency of a champion. After winning the all - around
title, she failed to win any gold medals the next day in the four individual events
and fell in both her balance - beam and her uneven - bars routines. Then there's
the other 14 - year - old, Alexandra Marinescu, the budding star on the world
champion Romanian team. Marinescu, the reigning European junior champion,
has won a couple of international meets this summer and is being hailed at
home as " the next Nadia. " Will the real Nadia please dance across the balance
beam, cartwheel through the air and then stand up?
Taken From: Newsweek: October 2,
Pages: 72 - 72
Thanks goes to Thomas Doyle for typing this article.