Karolyi, as is his wont, exaggerates on this count. He never just threw open the doors of his gym so the media could freely pepper Zmeskal with questions. Media days were carefully orchestrated, just as they have been for Moceanu since her victory at the nationals heralded her as the U.S. gymnast to watch in '96. Having greased the publicity rails for Moceanu, Karolyi then attempted to put on the brakes. Never mind that part of being an Olympic champion—even a child champion—is being able to live up to expectations. "Dominique's easier going than Kim was," Karolyi says, "a younger type of personality that is better for handling the pressure than someone so self-driving and self-demanding like Kim."
Is she? We shall see. It's a difficult thing, this business of being a prodigy. Moceanu has not had a vacation since 1988 unless you count a three-day trip in 1993 to visit her grandparents in California. An A student with a sociable nature, she has been educated at home this year, taking her ninth-grade curriculum through videotapes and books. Home schooling has been boring, but it allows her to train three hours each morning, then four to five hours in the afternoon. She has most Sundays off. "This year Dominique has put gymnastics first and school second," says Camelia. "She has the rest of her life to study."
"It's a sacrifice," says Dominique. "But it's only going to be this year. There's not too much time left."
For the last year she has been crossing off the days before the opening ceremonies on a homemade calendar that goes from 365 to 1. She is young enough to participate in the 2000 Olympics, but this is her time. Silly as it sounds, 14 is the prime of a female gymnast. Dominique knows that, and she sees that her shot at glory has come with a price. It's illuminating to hear her talk about six-year-old Christina, who's also enrolled at Karolyi's. "She's doing it for the fun," Dominique says—no smile now, strained or otherwise. "I don't know if we can have another gymnast in the family."
Since Christina was born, the Moceanus haven't had a family vacation. If all goes well, Dominique may get them a trip to Disneyland this summer. They'll certainly have earned it.