Moceanu Withdraws from Gymnastics Trials

Dominique Moceanu overcame the bitter split with

her parents and the years of bouncing from gym to gym and coach to

coach. In the end, though, it was her body that betrayed her.

The youngest member of the Magnificent Seven withdrew from the Olympic trials late Wednesday night because of a bone chip in her right knee.

“The hardest part after talking to her was, ‘I’ve worked so hard. I’ve put so much into this comeback,’” said Mary Lee Tracy, Moceanu’s coach.

Hurt and Dejected

Moceanu, 18, had surgery on the same knee last year, and the bone chip came about gradually, Tracy said. Moceanu’s knee gave out during practice Tuesday, and the pain worsened.

By Wednesday morning, she could barely train and her knee gave out on her periodically. In afternoon workouts, she could only manage some simple sit-ups and handstands while the rest of the gymnasts went through their full routines for competition, which begins Friday night.

She quit practice early, watching from the sidelines with a dejected look on her face.

“This isn’t something that’s just going to get better,” she said then. “It needs to get fixed.”

Dislodged Chip Caused Pain

She was right.

Though initial tests didn’t show any problems, the bone chip was discovered when doctors spoke with the orthopedic surgeon who operated on her knee last year. The chip had dislodged itself, preventing Moceanu from even being able to bend or straighten her knee.

She is expected to fly back to Cincinnati on Monday and have surgery next week.

“It wasn’t really so much an accident. It just started hurting,” Tracy said. “It had been a little bit of nagging aches and pain, but these kids have so much of that they never know when it’s the beginning of something. It was the beginning of something.”

Moceanu was not immediately available for comment. She was expected to hold a news conference today.

Longshot With Hope

She becomes the second of the five still competing members of the Magnificent Seven to drop out of the trials. Jaycie Phelps withdrew last week because of chronic knee problems.

After finishing eighth at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships last month, Moceanu was a long shot to make the six-woman Olympic team. But after all she’s endured the last four years, she wasn’t about to give up.

“She knew she was a far way out. Not one day did she ever come in like, ‘Oh geez, I’m never going to make it,’” Tracy said. “She was going to do this new vault. She’d [made] some changes and really was going to make a great showing.

“Of course [losing] the opportunity to make the Olympic team was disappointing. But you train to perform. She trained, and she’s not going to be able to perform.”

Personal Problems in Recent Years

Since being part of the first American women’s team to win Olympic gold, Moceanu’s life has been filled with disappointment and trouble. Just two years after the Atlanta Olympics, her life become tabloid fodder when she ran away from home and asked to be declared a legal adult, accusing her parents of squandering her money.

A month later, she was back in court asking for a protective order against her father, Dumitru, who allegedly inquired about having two of her friends killed. Dumitru Moceanu, who denied the accusations, was ordered to stay away from his daughter for a year. The order was lifted five months later.

The gymnast reached a settlement with her parents in April 1999 in a Houston court. The family has slowly reconciled, but the turmoil took a toll on her career. She bounced around the country searching for a coach and hadn’t trained seriously for about two years when she arrived at Tracy’s gym in January. She’d also grown nine inches and gained 40 pounds, and national coordinator Bela Karolyi often questioned her durability and fitness.

But she’d improved steadily in the last few months, and was hoping to make a big move at the Olympic trials. Instead, she’ll be left at home to figure out what her future holds while her teammates head for Sydney.

“She doesn’t need to make any decisions right now. She just kind of needs to grieve this,” Tracy said. “She doesn’t know what she wants to do. But she’s certainly not talking about, ‘OK, this is my retirement.’”