Hall of Fame gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and his wife, Martha, are facing new accusations that they physically and psychologically abused young female athletes going back to the 1960s.
According to the Daily Mail, Romanian author Stejarel Olaru wrote in a new book named “Nadia si Securitatea” that Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci — who became the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics in 1976 — is among the victims who the Karolyis starved to the point of developing eating disorders, slapped and denied medical treatment.
Bela and Martha Karolyi defected to America in 1981. Bela Karolyi coached Mary Lou Retton, who won the all-around gold medal in 1984. He also coached the United States national team for the 1992 Olympics. Martha Karolyi led the 1996 gold-medal team.
The allegations of abuse in the book come 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 Daily Mail. “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Comaneci said to Romanian journalists in a previously unpublished interview included in the book that she was starved for up to three days at times. Bela Karolyi is accused of eating meals, such as steak and fries, in front of the allegedly underfed gymnasts.
The 59-year-old Comaneci, who now lives in Oklahoma, told the Times of 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 Karolyis are also connected with disgraced United States team doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving 175 years in jail for sexually abusing gymnasts. Nassar abused some gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas. While the Karolyis deny any knowledge of Nassar’s abuse, some athletes accuse them of turning a blind eye.
• Andy Kostka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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