While we were busy following the Brazilian scandal, another scandal made headlines elsewhere. As we're sure you've read by now (if not, check out Gymblog), former Romanian national team member Emilia Eberle (a contemporary of Nadia Comaneci's, now known as Trudi Kollar) has denounced Bela Karolyi, accusing him of very harsh treatment indeed. She's not the first former Romanian gymnast to speak out on Karolyi's brutish ways; earlier, Rodica Dunca, Melita Ruhn and Ecaterina Szabo gave interviews in which they mentioned being starved, slapped, beaten up or otherwise abused by Karolyi, and last year even Adrian Goreac, Karolyi's successor as Romania's head coach, indicated that all was not well in Deva when Karolyi ruled there (more on that below). What's different now is that Geza Pozsar, the former Romanian team choreographer and probably Bela Karolyi's closest collaborator (other than his wife Martha), has confirmed Eberle's story, and added a few convincing details of his own. Moreover, the stories have been picked up by the American media, which could lead to an interesting situation. Will this be the end of the Karolyis' career in American gymnastics? Somehow we doubt it. U.S.A.G. has stood by the Karolyis too long. The organization would bring itself into disrepute by launching an investigation into them.
Bela and Martha Karolyi (photo: Romanian-gymnastics.com)
As far as we're concerned, it should be the end of the Karolyis, though. We've been hearing for years about their brutal training methods, both from Romanian gymnasts and (to some extent) from American gymnasts. The reports were quite consistent, and consistently awful. Based on those reports, we don't think people like the Karolyis should be put in charge of children, much less be revered for the way they treat those children. So we're going to present you with a few choice quotes about the Karolyis from three people who worked with them in Romania and were brave enough to speak up: Adrian Goreac, Rodica Dunca, and Ecaterina Szabo. To back up the Eberle and Pozsar stories, so to speak.
Firstly, let's hear from Adrian Goreac, the man who took over from the Karolyis when they defected to America. Under Goreac, the Romanian team blossomed. It was the era of Ecaterina Szabo, Lavinia Agache, Daniela Silivas, Aurelia Dobre, and Gabriela Potorac - the Golden Age of Romanian gymnastics, or so many fans believe.
In December 2007, Adrian Goreac (who left Romania in 1990 after a conflict with the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and has lived in France ever since) granted two interviews to Romanian newspapers about his days in charge of the team and the reasons for his departure. In the interviews, he also touched upon his predecessor, Bela Karolyi. If anyone is interested, we'll post translations of the whole interviews at some point, but for now we're going to focus on the passages which have a bearing on Karolyi.
Adrian Goreac (left) receives a presidential distinction in 2007 (photo: Romanian-gymnastics.com)
The first interview, published by Evenimentul Zilei on December 8, 2007, has a headline which says it all: "Bela Karolyi was a dictator."
Evenimentul Zilei: "Let's start at the beginning. What was the team like after Karolyi's defection?"
Adrian Goreac: "It was a difficult moment, because the team had just come back from the  World Championships in Russia, where it had failed to win a single medal. Nadia Comaneci and her contemporaries had reached the end of their careers. I asked them what they wanted, and they told me they wanted to stay in Deva to continue their education. I moved them [from the gymnasts' hostel] to the Party hotel. Tavi Belu, who was my second in command, had more to do with them than I. Slowly, Ecaterina Szabo, Daniela Silivas, Aurelia Dobre, and the others began to emerge."
Evenimentul Zilei: "So you basically rebuilt the team?"
Adrian Goreac: "I wouldn't say that. Romania had excellent club coaches all along, who provided us with our 'raw material.' However, Bela Karolyi had halted other coaches' access to the national teams, because he was completely in charge. I opened the door to them and relied much on other coaches. I only wanted one thing: To demonstrate that there was more to Romanian gymnastics than Nadia and Bela. I don't know whether I succeeded, but I do know that my girls were less tormented than Nadia."
Yep, the man said "tormented."
Bela Karolyi (photo: Gazeta Sporturilor)
Then there's this bit:
Evenimentul Zilei: "Was life at the Deva center as tough as they say?"
Adrian Goreac: "You could say it was a soldierly regime, but the girls knew that and accepted it. [Note: We think he's talking about his own term as head coach here, not Karolyi's.] Romanian gymnastics began to slip after Bela Karolyi. Don't get me wrong, I don't envy him, but he was tough, a dictator. He wasn't a specialist, but I've always admired him for his incredible drive, workwise. He was a success because he had an exception: Nadia. I won't lie to you, I also shouted at the girls and sometimes gave them a parental slap, but only when I caught them trafficking wine, cigarettes, etc. I abhor violence and never hit any gymnast for a mistake she made in the gym. But one way or another, on top of [Karolyi's] perseverance and hard work, there was talk of brutishness, which here and there is still going on today."
(Goreac uses a very strong word for "brutishness": bestialitate.)
Evenimentul Zilei: "In what respect was Bela Karolyi a dictator?"
Adrian Goreac: "Bela had oligarchic tendencies, because he had tasted power. In the end he could even pick the Securitate officials who accompanied the team on trips abroad! He had connections. He was a friend of Ilie Verdet's [a high-ranking politican of the time, also brother-in-law to Nicolae Ceausescu], with whom he went hunting. He made himself indispensable and built a mob around himself. After Montreal, every country on earth wanted Nadia to come and do exhibitions, but often the money the organizers of such events paid ended up in the pockets of Karolyi and his cronies. Some 20,000 to 30,000 dollars, it was rumored. It went to his head. He would give high-ranking communists instructions, telling them: 'If that doesn't suit you, why don't you come to the gym tomorrow yourself!' He'd fill his Mercedes up at the gas station and tell the assistants to send the bill to the provincial authorities! It infuriated the Securitate. When Bela felt that things were getting complicated, he stayed in the United States, with a suitcase full of money from the the tour they were on. He'd gotten scared."
This seems to jive with the stories Emilia Eberle and Geza Pozsar just told the Romanian media. The similarities are remarkable.
In a way, even Octavian Belu, no stranger to harsh training methods himself, subtly admitted that something was not entirely right about Karolyi's methods. Asked for a response to Goreac's allegations about Karolyi, the ever diplomatic Belu told Evenimentul Zilei: "Everybody assumes responsibility for his own declarations. I don't want to enter into this controversy. All I want to say is that we have Nadia, and that we owe her to the Karolyis."
We don't know about you, but we read that as a "guilty as charged."
Ecaterina Szabo (photo: Getty Images)
But there's more.
A few months ago, Goreac and Belu's pupil Ecaterina Szabo (1983 world champion on floor and quadruple gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics) also had some unkind words to say about the Karolyis. In an interview with the Romanian magazine Fanatik, Szabo, who as a promising junior was on the American tour from which the Karolyis defected, had this to say about the man with whom she briefly trained before becoming a star: "We were still in America in 1981 when the Karolyis stayed behind. I remember that we returned to Romania on April 1, 1981, and I was so happy on the plane that I'd escaped them! We partied so hard that the flight attendants were no match for us and I believed the plane might crash with us aboard. I'll never forget the slaps in the face and the beatings I got from Bela Karolyi!"
She doesn't go into detail, but there's no mistaking that last sentence.
(If anyone is interested in the whole Szabo interview, let us know and we'll translate it.)
However, until Emilia Eberle and Geza Pozsar's allegations, the most damning indictment of the Karolyis came courtesy of Rodica Dunca, who represented Romania at the 1979 and 1981 World Championships and the 1980 Olympics. We couldn't find the original interview, which we believe was published by ProSport in 2002, but we found excerpts of it reproduced in a Romanian blog. Translated, they read as follows:
Asked by the journalist whether Karolyi's methods were tough, Dunca answered, "I think 'tough' isn't the right word when you're lucky if you escape with merely a beating. Some days we were beaten until the blood streamed out of our noses. Hunger was our eternal enemy."
Rodica Dunca and Nadia Comaneci in 1983, two years after the Karolyis defected. They looked considerably happier then than they had before. (Photo: Tom Theobald)
The blog continues: And then she tells shocking stories, with revelations about girls fleeing from training camps and Securitate officials arresting 13- and 14-year-old girls in stations, forcing them to go back to the "prison" in Deva. About the threats they received on their return to Deva: That if they ever tried to escape again, their parents would suffer for it. We hear how Nadia Comaneci hid in an unused toilet for three days because she was so afraid of her coach. But the most frightening passage in Rodica Dunca's confessions is this:
"Because of hunger, we often put ourselves in extreme situations. And the methods by which they kept us away from food probably could have killed us."
ProSport: "What were those methods?"
Rodica Dunca: "I remember that in 1979, before the Fort Worth World Championships, Nadia was a few pounds too heavy. We were on a training camp in Germany. Geza Pozsar, our choregrapher, and Bela Karolyi slept in our room with us. In front of the door to the toilet. When we needed to go to the toilet, we had to pee with the door open."
Rodica Dunca: "They were afraid that we'd somehow drink water. But we'd go into the bathroom, do what we had to do and wait a while before flushing the toilet. We'd climb onto the toilet with a glass in our hands and drink from the overhead cistern. That's how we drank our fill."
ProSport: "You could have gotten some disease that way."
Rodica Dunca: "That didn't matter. The same thing happened when we took a shower. They kept an eye on us, and we weren't allowed to raise our chins, so we couldn't ingest any water."
ProSport: "What did you eat before competitions?"
Rodica Dunca: "In the morning we'd get one slice of salami, two nuts, and a glass of milk. In the evening we'd get the same menu, only without the nuts."
ProSport: "Did you ever eat to your heart's content?"
Rodica Dunca: "Only twice in my career as a gymnast."
ProSport: "Just twice?"
Rodica Dunca: "No, actually, there was a third time. We were at an exhibition in Spain. One time we left the hotel. I don't know why the coaches weren't around at the time. At a few meters' distance from the building there was a field of strawberries. We all swooped down on them like termites and ate as many strawberries as we wanted. But it came out later, because the owner of the strawberries made a scene at the hotel."
ProSport: "Did you ever suffer any serious health problems?"
Rodica Dunca: "Many times. Broken feet, a broken shoulder, among other things. I remember that when we began to menstruate, the assistant took us to her office and gave us an injection. The injection probably contained hormones, because after that, I didn't menstruate for almost two years. The same thing happened to the other girls."
Rodica Dunca (photo: Tom Theobald)
ProSport: "What kind of pills did you take?"
Rodica Dunca: "We didn't actually take any pills ourselves; they practically shoved them down our throats! The assistant would stand next to everyone to make sure we swallowed the pills. In the morning we'd get 14 pills, for lunch we'd get 20 pills and 4 little envelopes full of powder, and in the evening we'd get 10 pills. I still don't know what kind of pills they were, but after I left gymnastics, I had problems."
ProSport: What kind of problems?
Rodica Dunca: "I was dependent on them, and afterwards I was forced to buy [the pills] for another year. The pharmacist crossed himself when he saw how much I could ingest."
So there you have it. Add all these quotes to the stories told by Emilia Eberle and Geza Pozsar, and you should have enough material for a serious investigation, we should think.
Not that we're holding our breath.