Who is Bela Karolyi? US Olympics trainer and his wife had 'beaten, starved and abused' female child gymnasts

Who is Bela Karolyi? US Olympics trainer and his wife had 'beaten, starved and abused' female child gymnasts
Kerri Strug (L) of the USA is carried off the floor by coach Bela Karolyi (R) at the Georgia Dome in the 1996 Olympic Games (Getty Images)

In 1976, 14-year-old gymnastics protege Nadia Comaneci from Romania, created history at the Montreal Olympics by becoming the first-ever gymnast to score a perfect ten. Her outstanding victory immediately brought her coach Bela Karolyi to the limelight. Thereafter, Karolyi went on to lead a super successful streak as an Olympics Gymnastics trainer, especially as the trainer for Team USA since 1981. Under the efficient mentorship of him and his wife Marta Karolyi, the USA women's gymnastics national team went on to earn many Olympic medals and accolades. 

However, there is a dark side to his story of stupendous success. A new book published by Romanian author Stejarel Olaru claims that Bela Karolyi and his wife had "beaten, starved and abused" many female child athletes, including gymnastics icon Nadia Comaneci. The book, which contains information from secret files from Romania's Communist-era Securitate, reveals many shocking instances of abuse by the Karloyis. Additionally, the couple is facing multiple lawsuits and investigations in the US over their alleged link to pedophile Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. 


Olympic coach John Geddert with ties to Larry Nassar charged with 24 counts of human trafficking, sexual assault

'How much is a little girl worth?' Read full statement of the first woman to go public about Larry Nassar

Martha & Bela Karolyi (L-R) (Getty Images)

Who is Bela Karolyi?

A skilled athlete and a national junior boxing champion, Bela Karolyi was born in Hungary on September 13, 1942. He pursued the study of gymnastics at the Romania College of Physical Education. During his college senior year, he was assigned to coach the women's gymnastics team, where he first met his future wife Marta Eross. 

After the wedding in 1963, the couple moved to a small town and together launched a gymnastics class at a local elementary school. They rose through fame as the government invited them to create a national school for gymnastics. In the late 1960s, Bela Karolyi started coaching the six-year-old Nadia Comaneci. 

 Bela Karolyi holds Phoebe Mills and Kristy Phillips during a competition.(Getty Images - Tony Duffy /Allsport)

He debuted as an international coach in 1974, two years before Montreal Olympics. Following his 1976 success through Comaneci, Karolyi was named head coach for the Romanian gymnastics team at the 1980 Olympics. However, he soon earned the displeasure of the Romanian officials for protesting the scores at multiple international events. As the relation soured, the Karolyis defected to the USA and settled in Oklahoma and later Houston. 

Systemic abuse by Bela and Marta Karolyi

Bela Karolyi was soon invited to coach US gymnasts who had the potential to bring medals at the Olympics. He served as the individual coach of Mary Lou Retton and Julianne McNamara in 1984 and reportedly underwent a lot of struggle since he did not have an official position. 

From there, it was only a journey upward for Karolyi as he went on to earn immense acclaim by coaching esteemed gymnasts like Betty Okino, Kim Zmeskal, Kristie Philips, Dominique Moceanu, Phoebe Mills, and Kerri Strug. 

Julissa D''Anne Gomez with coach Bela Karolyi during the USGF Junior Championships. (Getty Images via Allsport USA/ALLSPORT)

In the past few years, many of these athletes have come forward to criticize his training methods, publicly stating the Karolyi was verbally and psychologically abusive towards them during the exercise regimes. His constant shaming and negative remarks about body types and weight resulted in the young athletes developing eating disorders. The abuse was not only limited to food. Olympians Chelle Stack, Dominique Moceanu and Kristie Philips have alleged that they were forced to continue training even with broken bones. 

"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," author Stejarel Olaru wrote in his book 'Nadia si Securitatea' about the abuse done by the Karolyis.

The book further reveals, "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." The writer added that Karolyi often ate heavy meals of steaks and french fries in front of the girls who were being under-fed. Even Nadia Comaneci has alleged that Bela Karolyi slapped and starved her for up to three days at a time, according to Daily Mail. 

The US Team and their Coach Bela Karolyi (Getty Images)

He and his wife are also under fire for turning a blind eye to the alleged sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar. 

Meanwhie, Karolyi never explicitly denied the allegations against him, rather he even tried to justify the same. "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," reported AFP News. 

Share this article:  bela Karolyi wife marta abuse gymnasts female child olympics gold medal