And finally, a repost of my review of Olympic gold medalist gymnast Dominique Moceanu’s book, Off Balance, which I read and reviewed in June 2012. This review is posted as/is, so Dominique is no longer 30.
I will never forget the summer Olympics of 1996. They were held in Atlanta, Georgia, a city I would eventually briefly call home. Though Atlanta is now not so far from home, back in 1996, it was halfway around the world from where I was. At that time, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia. The United States Embassy had graciously allowed Peace Corps Volunteers to use its services, which included a laundry, movie theater, and restaurant. The restaurant got the Armed Forces Network (AFN), which aired American television shows and, of course, the Olympic Games!
The 1996 Games were very special, especially for the women’s gymnastics team, which won team gold and consisted of seven amazing young ladies. One young lady on the 1996 women’s gymnastics team at the Olympics was Dominique Moceanu, author of the brand new memoir, Off Balance: A Memoir. This book, which comes on the market just in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, was also written by Paul and Teri Williams.
Who is Dominique Moceanu?
Dominique Moceanu had already made a lot of headlines before the Games. At 14, she was the youngest and tiniest member of the women’s gymnastics team. Born to immigrant Romanian parents, in many ways Moceanu bore a striking resemblance to another famous Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. Besides looking a lot like Nadia, Moceanu had the same famous coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, and the same athletic power, grace, and charisma. And just like Nadia at 14 years old, 14 year old Dominique Moceanu won gold for her country at the Olympics. She will always be the youngest American gymnast to win gold, since the eligibiity rules changed after 1996 and now female gymnasts must be at least 15 years old to compete.
Dominique Moceanu was born about a year after her parents’ wedding in 1980 and she was very impressive from the start. At six months old, her parents had her hang by her hands from a clothesline. Even as a baby, her grip was amazing and somehow her parents knew they had a gymnast on their hands.
Being an amazing gymnast has its price, however. Moceanu explains that since her parents were old school Romanians, she suffered a bit trying to adjust to American culture. Her parents were very poor and came from a country where family honor is a very important concept. Consequently, Moceanu worked very hard as she grew up and had little control or say over her own life. Her late father, Dmitru Moceanu, was very ambitious for his daughter and, along with the Karolyis, forced her to train endlessly. He was very controlling and not above using violence to get what he wanted.
At age ten, Moceanu began working with the Bela and Marta Karolyi, whose training methods were effective, but brutal. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Dominque as she described a childhood spent in a gym full of old equipment and ever changing coaches. The truth was, the Karolyis didn’t actually do most of the coaching themselves. They hired and fired different people at the drop of a hat.
Behind Dominique’s powerful tumbling and confident smile, there was a young lady who was truly suffering for her sport. Bela and Marta Karolyi, though famous and charismatic on camera, were exceedingly demanding and critical coaches who forced Dominique to starve herself as she put her growing body through punishing and grueling practices. When Dominique became famous and started earning money, her father squandered it on a huge gym, forcing Moceanu to go to court to become emancipated from her parents at age 17.
In 2007, Moceanu learned that her parents had kept a secret from her and her younger sister, Christina. They had given up another daughter for adoption. Dominique learned of her long lost sister, Jennifer Bricker, when Bricker sent her a letter, pictures, and adoption documents. Besides the fact that Dominique did not know that she had a sister, she also didn’t know that her sister was born without legs and that was the main reason her parents had given her up. Moceanu found out about her sister as she was about to give birth to her first child and was trying to prepare for final exams in college.
Now just 30 years old, Moceanu is a married mother of two, an Olympic champion, a college graduate, and getting to know the sister her parents gave away. To top it all off, her father, with whom she’d always had a complicated relationship, died a few years ago of a rare eye cancer.
Yes, Dominique Moceanu has seen, done, and lived a lot in her thirty years. Ordinarily, I would say she was too young to write her life story, but there’s plenty to read about in Off Balance. This book is written as if Dominque were sitting nearby, having a chat with a friend. In a casual, conversational style, Moceanu, with help from her ghost writers, retells her life story. Curiously enough, she doesn’t start at the beginning. The book begins with Moceanu’s discovery that she had a long lost sister… one born without legs, no less! From there, Dominique explains how her parents met and wed in an arranged marriage and left Romania for the United States, determined to make a better life and eventually became a world class and world famous gymnastics family.
I didn’t really care too much for the initial jumping around this book did, but I’m kind of old school when it comes to reading life stories. I like to start at the beginning. But I also understand that a lot of people will be buying this book because of the recent buzz surrounding Moceanu’s legless sister. Indeed, I didn’t even know Off Balance existed until I saw a news clip about Dominque and Jennifer Bricker finally meeting each other. I would have read the book anyway, since I love memoirs about famous gymnasts, but I have to admit this astonishing development in Moceanu’s family life is very compelling.
I was very touched by how accepting Moceanu and her younger sister, Christina, were toward Jennifer Bricker. Indeed, they all seem to get along as if they had spent their whole lives together. And Bricker is truly amazing in her own right; she seems to have inherited the amazing athletic genes that helped make Dominque Moceanu a champion. Despite not having legs, Jennifer Bricker is able to be a gymnast herself and now works as an aerialist.
Aside from all of her family dramas, Moceanu also writes about the politics and corruption she encountered in the elite gymnastics community. And she includes the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband, podiatrist and gymnast Dr. Michael Canales.
Moceanu includes plenty of color photos. I read this book on an iPad, so the photos were easy to see. The book was also a very quick and satisfying read. I finished it in less than 24 hours.
Dominique Moceanu may only be 30, but she’s done a lot of living. I enjoyed reading Off Balance and would recommend it heartily to anyone who enjoys memoirs, particularly about sports figures.
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