Coach of
Nadia Comaneci

 by Nicoline Blom


Women's gymnastics is one of the most popular events of the Olympic Games. The world is charmed by the grace and strength displayed by the young athletes. One man, Bela Karolyi, revolutionized this sport and turned it into what it has become today.

Bela Karolyi, born and educated in Onesti, Romania, began his gymnastics coaching career in the late 1960's. Karolyi noticed one young girl among the many in his class that exhibited extraordinary potential. For the following nine years, he singled this girl out and focused most of his attention on her. Through his tutelage and personal methods Nadia Comaneci became world renowned as the first gymnast to score a perfect ten at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal at the age of fourteen. Upon their return to Romania, Karolyi became disgruntled with the Communist Party's attempts to centralize the athletic programs and move his national team to Bucharest.


In 1981, while on tour with the Romanian gymnastics team, Karolyi defected to the United States, bringing with him novel and unorthodox methods of coaching. After finding the necessary funding, Karolyi opened his own gymnastics training center in Houston, Texas. Young American hopefuls, such as Mary Lou Retton, flocked to Bela in hopes of becoming the next Nadia. The success of Nadia Comaneci has been attributed to the discipline and dedication that Karolyi demanded of her. It was these same principles that enabled Karolyi to revolutionize American gymnastics. " Bela Karolyi, the controversial Romanian defector who over the course of 11 years almost single-handedly built America into an Olympic contender." (1)

Karolyi's techniques differed from all the other gymnastic experts. He believed that training should commence at a very young age and changed the common perception that a female gymnast peaked after the age of eighteen. Repetition of movements was what he saw to be the most important aspect of training. Always on the lookout for a specific body type, Karolyi asserted that this was an essential characteristic for a successful gymnast. Often referred to as a dictator, Karolyi vigilantly monitored his athletes daily regimens, from ensuring the proper amount of sleep to accounting for every calorie ingested. These methods have been adopted by gymnastics coaches all over the world. Although Bela Karolyi has been called many names, his contribution to the gymnastic world is irrefutable.


1. Adler, Jerry and Starr, Mark. "Flying High Now", NEWSWEEK. Aug. 10, 1992, p.20-25.





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