Book Review: Off Balance: A Memoir by Dominique Moceanu

Title: Off Balance
Author: Dominique Moceanu
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Year Published: 2012
Format: Kindle
Source: I purchased this book.

Dominique Moceanu won an Olympic gold medal along with her Magnificent 7 teammates at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She was only 14 years old, tiny (4 feet 4 inches tall!), cute and charismatic. She has a new memoir called Off Balance: A Memoir, detailing her life as an elite gymnast.

Here is Dominique at the 1996 Olympics during the team competition:

Her life on and off the gym floor has been difficult. She had complicated relationships with her family and with Bela and Marta Karolyi, her official coaches during her champion years. Her parents were Romanian immigrants, although Dominique and her sister were born in the United States. While she loved her mother and sister, her relationship with her father was fraught with complications. He was domineering and abusive.

The book opens when Dominique is an adult, and receives the biggest surprise of her life. Her parents had kept a secret from her and her sister for many years.

Dominique is bitter about many things but she also gives praise where it is due. She actually adored her first coaches, but when it became apparent by the age of 10 that Dominique was exceptionally talented – Olympic material – her father whisked her away to the Karolyi ranch in Texas. She was not at all prepared for the transition. She was shy and was used to a positive environment in the gym, but in Texas she was hopelessly confused and upset with what went on. For example, her favorite coach at the gym simply disappeared (he was fired) and no one ever mentioned him again.

Much has been made of the fact that she was miserable with the Karolyis. Actually, in this book she seems to be more mystified by their actions. After the Olympics they seemed to want to have nothing to do with her. Even though she won a gold medal, she didn’t win any individual medals and apparently that was considered a failure. Even her parents were discouraged from praising her too much.

Moceanu’s body changed rapidly after Atlanta but she still kept pursuing gymnastics – because she loved it.

She had made quite a lot of money from touring in gymnastics shows after the Olympics, which her father had put into building a huge gymnasium. Moceanu famously ran away from home as a teenager and tried to get her legal emancipation from her family. What happened after that is riveting reading.

Quite frankly, I was surprised by this book. If you read enough gymnastics message boards as I do, you would think that Dominique Moceanu was the devil, or is at the very least lying in the gutter with a needle in her arm. Many people find her hopelessly bitter because she has voiced her unhappiness in how she was treated many times. Perhaps because she was so cute and spunky while performing, some gym fans just refuse to accept how difficult her life really was?

Even before her book was released it was being compared to Jen Sey’s notorious gymnastics memoir, Chalked Up, about that author’s bitter experiences in gymnastics. But Moceanu’s book is well-written by her “co-authors” Paul and Teri Williams. The book was far more detailed than I expected, although it does slide over some of the things that happened in her career after 1996, spending more time on the events that happened in Moceanu’s personal life.

Moceanu is currently happy and productive, married to a gymnast-turned-physician, and they have two young children. Her children are involved with gymnastics, since she always loved the sport, but not the outside pressures involved with elite gymnastics.

Leave a Reply