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Bela Karolyi is widely renowned in the gymnastics community for his coaching, but the legend is not what he seems to be. Investigate the recent allegations.

Bela Karolyi: Did the legendary gymnastic coach abuse his athletes?

After the highly publicized trial of gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar back in 2018, in which hundreds of women and girls shared disturbing stories of Nassar sexually assaulting and taking advantage of young athletes, the world of professional gymnastics began to look much darker behind the scenes to the public eye. 

Now, Hall of Fame gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and his wife Martha Karolyi, are facing accusations of both mental and physical abuse on the young gymnasts they trained dating all the way back to the 1960s. These accusations give us a deeper insight on just how horrible of treatment many of the young female gymnasts we know and love today may have once faced. Let’s take a deeper look at the horrific details. 

Accusations from a new book

Bela Karolyi and Martha Karolyi have been considered some of the most notable names in US gymnastics history, with the Karolyis being credited for the success of USA Gymnastics for over a decade. However, since the arrest and trial of Larry Nassar, the two also have not been exempt from disturbing allegations for their role in harming the young athletes they’ve trained over the years. 

Bela Karolyi and Martha Karolyi are facing fresh allegations after a newly published book titled Nadia si Securitatea written by Romanian author Stejarel Olaru was released. Inside the book, author Olaru details the training of specifically Romanian gymnast Nadia Comanenci, one of the many victims of the Karolyis and the first gymnast to score a perfect ten at the Olympics in the year 1976. 

Stejarel Olaru wrote all about how Nadia Comaneci, who was Bela Karolyi’s first prodigy and his way into America and eventually USA Gymnastics, was tortured mentally and physically by both Bela and Martha Karolyi through a variety of ways such as being starved to the point of developing eating disorders, slapped, being denied medical treatment, and tons more.

What was the abuse like? 

The claims of abuse are from old files from the Securitate, which is Romania’s secret police force from the Communist-era. Olaru detailed: “Starving the gymnasts was a regular practice by the Karolyis. 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”.

Olaru continued: “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 even said that she had been slapped and starved for up to three days in a row. An interview from the book also alleged that Bela Karolyi would eat large meals in front of the starving athletes to torment them. 

Comaneci, who is now 59-years-old and living in Oklahoma, announced to the Times regarding the book and accusations of Bela and Martha Karolyi that “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”.

When AFP news asked Bela Karolyi for comments regarding the accusations made against him, he responded with: “By nature I am never satisfied. It’s never enough, never. My gymnasts are the best prepared in the world. And they win. That’s all that counts”.

Currently, the Karolyis are already facing lawsuits in America surrounding accusations of abuse as well as turning a blind eye to Larry Nassar while allegedly knowing he was sexually abusing the female athletes he worked with. All in all, we just hope that justice is served for every victim who has been hurt and affected in the dark behind-the-scenes world of competitive gymnastics. 

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