Gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi is facing new claims that he physically assaulted and psychologically tortured young female athletes, dating back to the 1960s.
Karolyi, who coached Romanian in his native country before defecting to the US in 1981, where he took charge of the US national team, and is said to have beat, starved and refused medical treatment to girls in their training camps his wife Martha.
Among the alleged victims was Nadia Comaneci, an early protégé of Karolyi and the first female gymnast to achieve a perfect ten in the Olympics – a feat previously considered unattainable.
The claims are contained in old records of the Securitate, Romania’s communist-era secret police sent to spy on the Karolyis because of the importance of the Romanian gymnastics team to state propaganda.
The Karolyis are already facing lawsuits and investigations in the US over allegations of abuse there, and their ties to pedophile Team USA doctor Larry Nassar.
Bela Karolyi (left) and wife Martha (right) face new allegations that they abused young female gymnasts during their time as a coach in Romania
Among the victims of the Karolyis, Nadia Comaneci is said to be the first female gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 in the Olympics (in that photo even in 1976 left and right in 2019)
The documents have been published in a new book, Nadia si Securitatea (Nadia and the Securitate), by Romanian author Stejarel Olaru.
In the book, he writes that even the secret police officers were sometimes shocked by the treatment girls received in Karolyis training camps.
“Starving the gymnasts was a regular exercise of the Karolyis,” he writes.
The girls ate toothpaste at night before going to bed – they were that hungry. In some cases, they spoke secretly about drinking water from the toilet tank, as they were often not allowed to drink water.
Some eventually got bulimia. They became experts at stealing food, which they hid in places they thought no one would discover, such as the hem of the curtain. ‘
In an unpublished interview in the book, Comaneci claimed she was beaten and starved for up to three days in a row.
Meanwhile, Secret Service documents refer to Karolyi sometimes eating meals, including steaks and fries, in front of girls who were underfed.
The Karolyis are already facing investigations and lawsuits in the US regarding their time spent coaching Team USA athletes on their Texas farm (pictured in 1996)
Comaneci, now 59 and living in Oklahoma, made a brief statement to The Times without directly addressing the abuse claims.
‘I was aware of it [Olaru’s] project and its investigation of the files and informants of the secret police, ”she said.
“I told him my whole memory is in the book I wrote, Letters to a Young Gymnast. Nothing more to add. Life goes on. ‘
Bela Karolyi did not explicitly deny the allegations when she contacted the AFP news agency.
“I am never naturally satisfied,” he said. ‘It’s never enough, never. My gymnasts are the best prepared in the world. And they win. That’s all that matters. ‘
It is not the first time that the Karolyis have been accused of abusing female athletes in their care.
Multiple athletes have made claims regarding their time at the Karolyi Ranch, located in a remote part of the Sam Houston National Forest in eastern Texas.
At the ranch, pedophile doctor Larry Nassar, who is now serving 175 years in prison for assaulting more than 150 women and girls, carried out some of his attacks.
Larry Nassar, Team USA’s pedophile physician, carried out attacks on the couple’s ranch – with accusers including gold medalist Simone Biles (right), who trained there
Among his accusers are Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles – all gold medal-winning gymnasts from Team USA.
The Karolyis deny any knowledge of Nassar’s abuse, but athletes have accused them of turning a blind eye while also claiming the pair committed their own abuse.
A 2016 lawsuit filed by an anonymous Jane LM Doe accused the couple of beating female gymnasts, while former athlete Mattie Larson accused the pair of keeping Nassar as a doctor because he was willing to ignore their abuse.
“ The complete detachment from the outside world, on top of careless and neglected adults, made the ranch the perfect environment for abusers and rapists to thrive, ” Larson told CNN in 2018.
“Did you keep Larry around because he was a good doctor? Or did you really keep him close because he let us compete when we were injured and willing to keep your secrets? ‘
But others have claimed they were directly abused by the Karolyis, both of whom have served as Team USA’s head coach over the years.
Dominique Moceanu, a member of the 1996 Olympic gold medal team, described the Karolyis as “the most emotionally abusive coaches in our lives.”