Back on the Beam
Dominique Moceanu, on her own at last, is training again—and loving it
Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, whose fight for legal independence from her parents kept her away from the gym for nearly four months, plans to make her comeback at a competition in China on April 5. "It'll be a couple of months before I'm back in the shape I was in when I won the Goodwill Games [last July]," the 17-year-old Moceanu says. "In 14 years of gymnastics I'd never taken even a month off, so it's not going to be easy. But you've got to believe and go forward if you're going to achieve your dreams."
Since December, when a Texas district judge granted a protective order against Dominique's domineering and abusive father, Dumitru, forbidding him to speak to her directly or come within 500 feet of her residence, school or workout facility for one year (SI, Dec. 21, 1998), Dominique has been searching for a place to train. In late January she moved from Houston to Orlando to begin working out with her coach, Luminita Miscenco, at Brown's Gymnastics Central, a facility run by Rita Brown, a former coach who owns five gyms. Brown reportedly paid Moceanu's moving costs, bought about $15,000 worth of new equipment and cosigned four-month leases on apartments for the gymnast and her coach. But Moceanu, who is accustomed to training privately, left with Miscenco after 2� weeks.
Brown says she found out that Moceanu was moving to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs when Moceanu announced the move during a television interview. Brown says she feels "a little used" by Moceanu and calls her "a lost little girl."
Early signs are that Moceanu is beginning to find herself again in Colorado Springs, where she has been working out since Feb. 16. The price is certainly right She is not charged for room and board at the Olympic Training Center—an important consideration, since Dumitru appears to have used Dominique's trust fund to secure financing for a huge gym near Houston. Dominique lives in a two-bedroom dormitory unit with Miscenco. "Things are working out great for me here," she says. By training 6� hours a day, she has lost most of the 15 pounds she'd added since walking out of her father's gym on Oct. 17, and she's regaining strength and flexibility. She can already do her entire repertoire on the balance beam, her favorite apparatus, but is struggling with the vault and the uneven bars. "The altitude here still affects me a lot," she says, "but once I can do my routines here, I know I'll be able to do them anywhere."
Moceanu says she'll stay in Colorado Springs at least until September, when she'll try to qualify at the U.S. World Team Trials—her chief goal before the 2000 Olympics. She occasionally talks by phone to her mother, Camelia, and her little sister, Christina, and believes that one day she and her father will reconcile. "I know he's sad and wants to see me," Dominique says. "My mom says he's coming around, he's changing. Time will heal everything. There's still some hurt. Sometimes I'm lonely. But when I was young, I was taught to be tough, and I believe if I can overcome this, I can overcome anything. I want to prove to everyone that I can do it on my own."
U.S. Downhiller Makes Good
A Gain in Spain
After crossing the finish line in the World Cup downhill final in Sierra Nevada, Spain, on March 10, Chad Fleischer whirled to check the number next to his name on the scoreboard. Seeing a 2, he wondered briefly if the computer was going to spew out an additional digit. Not so long ago it was news when Fleischer simply reached the bottom—he estimates that he crashed once every two runs during his first four seasons on the World Cup circuit—and a top 10 placement would have astounded him. "Actually, I was looking for a 1 in front of the 2," says the 6'2�", 220-pound Fleischer, the biggest though not always best hope for the U.S. in the downhill, "but it wasn't a huge surprise getting second. It was more like, 'It's about time.' I didn't go crazy."
The 27-year-old Fleischer's finish behind Lasse Kjus of Norway, who won the overall World Cup tide on Sunday, occasioned the first trip to the podium by a member of the U.S. men's team in four years. Fleischer had shown signs that he was ready to, excuse us, crash through. He finished a strong sixth in the Super G last month at the world championships in his hometown of Vail, Colo., and he has had an upright season except for a tumble in a training run at Kitzb�hel in Austria. Fleischer might have won the downhill there in 1995, but he took the last jump too soon and fell six seconds from the finish, losing a competition but gaining a nickname. The course announcer screamed in German, "Attention! Attention! That is the Butcher." (In German, Fleischer means "butcher") The moniker has stuck, though Fleischer began to temper his aggressiveness with technique and a hint of prudence after a conversation with French downhill star Luc Alphand in '96. "He told me I was an amazing skier," Fleischer says, "but I simply couldn't keep crashing."
Fleischer bumbled along a while more—last season he was slowed by a decision to change equipment and by a case of food poisoning—but last summer he hired a personal trainer. " Chad was always strong," U.S. national men's coach Bill Egan says. "Now he's fit."