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A word of warning, this episode contains mature language depicting instances of sexual, physical and or emotional abuse of children. Hello, everyone, my name is Bella Crowley, and welcome to Farnaby Gymnastics. I know you are our natural born performer already because I'm sure everybody experience all the swinging and hangi movements. Are you a backyard? You always very careful don't do anything too difficult for you. And don't be afraid to ask your parents or coaches about you and your body with exercise.
But most of all, can't find the gymnastics.
This is Episode three, The Bella Show.
By 1990, Bella Karoly was the face of gymnastics in the United States. Little girls from all over flocked to his gym in Houston.
His summer camp sold out. And like any savvy sports personality of the era, he had an instructional video to help spread his message.
You can do it now.
If you look in Houston, Texas, we're going to go through step by step the whole notion of the famous back flip flop. But for all the attention he was receiving, Bella Carolee was no closer to what he really wanted.
He could sell all the fun with gymnastics VHS tapes in the world. He could coach a hundred Mary Lou Retton. But after ten years in the United States, Bella Coralee had failed to convince the U.S. Gymnastics Federation to hand over the program and give him the type of control he once had in Romania.
There was resistance in the United States to a centralized Soviet system in those days as a long time Olympics writer, my reporting partner, Bonnie Ford, understood the hesitation about the system Bella came from.
That system was something that we had ridiculed over here in the media as being draconian. The idea that you would pluck kids from kindergarten and evaluate them for their talent and put them in this very narrow, rigid system where they were denied their childhoods.
That was really antithetical to what sports officials here thought was the way which was to let the free market rule, the US system emphasized the individual athletes trained at private gyms with personal coaches. There was no sharing of information between top programs to help the national team.
You don't have a uniform style, a uniform standard uniform expectations of athletes and coaches. So up against countries that had a centralized system, Bella thought the US system was doomed and would never succeed at the Olympic level because they did not have that kind of unified approach that Romania and other Eastern Bloc countries had. But the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona seemed like a prime opportunity for Bela, if he could once again get himself named head coach and lead Team USA to a gold medal, he might finally convince the U.S. Gymnastics Federation to give him what he wanted.
Well, I really would like to see what was my goal ever since started to spark the idea. Yes, the American gymnastics can be placed know on the superior pedestal. On the international level. I like to see a worldwide recognition that quality, that capability and the superiority of the American gymnastic program and his chances couldn't have looked better.
His newest star, a local kid from Houston named Kim Romesco, had once in a generation talent. I was very lucky to have seen Mary Lou Retton trained for the Olympics. I realized that I wanted to be like her and and make it to the Olympics. What I was watching and I was seeing in terms of the joy of performing, she does it because she loves it. She always wanted to be a winner. She definitely is one of the strongest gymnasts I ever coached in my life.
Yes. Mr. Kim won the 1991 world championship at 15 years old. Just listen to the crowd standing on the first American woman ever to win an all around medal at World nine nine eight seven gold for the Americans and kittens. High school fellow was heading into Barcelona with the best gymnast in the world.
But part of the reason Bella bristled at the U.S. system was that he wanted a monopoly and he didn't have one. There were other ambitious coaches building their own programs. Like his ex protege, Steve Nonno, after he was a mentor or an employer, he became bitter enemy and rival.
When Nuno left Bella and Marta's gym back in 1983, he'd set up shop in Edmond, Oklahoma, and opened a gym of his own. There he put the work ethic and conditioning techniques he'd learned from the Karalis into practice.
Shannon Miller met Nonno by chance at a clinic in Moscow. She was nine, a young gymnast with obvious talent. She lived in Edmond, not far from Steve's gym. She and her parents jumped at the chance to train with a guy who'd honed his craft with the great bell, a parolee. And while Bela and Kim were trying to build on her world championship, Steve and Shannon were quickly becoming a threat. Shannon Miller upset Kansas mescal to win the U.S. Olympic trials, putting the gymnasts and their coaches on a collision course for gold in Barcelona.
Welcome the Pallo Sordi, about three and a half miles from the Olympic Village where women's gymnastics, John Tesh, along with Tim Dagget, Delfi Slagle and this and of course, the master from Transilvania, Bella Karalee, for the second straight time, the federation named Bella, head coach of the Olympic team.
But unlike 1988, he had a team that was capable of challenging the Russians and Romanians.
The United States has a good chance to win the team title for the first time in its history. They came close in eighty four but were edged by the Romanians.
Bela and Marta personally coached three of the six athletes on Team USA, Kym's Temescal, Kerri Strug and Betty Akino. But Bela was the Olympic head coach. So as far as the rest of the world was concerned, all of Team USA was Bela's team.
Shannon Miller included Kym's Temescal, Shannon Miller and the rest of Bela Corelli's gymnastics squad are trying to win the first ever U.S. team gold medal.
The Olympics started with the team competition. They won with compulsory routines. They, too, was optional. The team scores determine two things who won team medals in which athletes competed in the individual events later that week for a country, there was glory in a team medal. For a gymnast, the real glory was in the individual.
All around, we bring you the women's compulsory exercise in gymnastics. This is the beginning of the team competition.
Six On the first day of team competition, reigning world champion Kym's Temescal started on the balance beam.
This is the world champion.
Sixteen year old U.S. Gymnastics Federation President Mike Jackie watched from the stand. Oh that she is off the beam.
She fell off the beam out of back handspring. I'll bet she hadn't fallen off the beam and a back answering in ten years. She was in high school. You know, performance was just a disaster for Baylor. Choreographer Geisa Pausa understood exactly what that fall meant.
Give me the mask of us as one of the favorite gymnasts ever. He loved Kimmie, you know, and they took it as a personal affront that Kim did so bad. You know, he didn't like losers. So then you become a loser. You know, you have done with Bella. You know, Houston Chronicle writer John Lopez saw Bella follow him off the competition floor and corner her. He was pretty adamant. He wasn't happy about it that way.
John watched Bella launch into a tirade in an arena tunnel in full view of the media. And she's obviously, you know, upset but nodding her head like, yeah, you know, you're right. I got to, you know, this is what we got to do or I messed up or whatever he's trying to to get her back in the game right there. In that moment, you know, his prized pupil, just like the starting quarterback, you know, just like the starting point guard made a huge mistake and he was mad and he was coaching her up.
Bela and Marta had pinned all of their hopes on Kym's Temescal. And when she faltered, it opened the door for their other athletes to step up.
You're fourteen years old. You're standing here during the balance beam. Team's Kerri Strug. Take a deep breath, OK? You're probably really scared.
With a spotlight constantly on Kim, Kerri Strug felt like she was always in her teammates shadow.
I was definitely not as confident in where I stood with them. I always wanted their approval. You want them to say, you know, good job. And for me. I had talent, but I definitely was not mentally tough. That was especially true at important meetings.
I was known for not really putting it together when it counted most, so I didn't like being known for that whatsoever.
And now here she was on the biggest stage imaginable, the Olympic Games.
Good, good. And you can hear Bella in the background saying good luck and Kerri Strug score coming up right now and control.
How is that good about that kind of escort? Well, that certainly does.
Open up the door. And remember, of course, Kerry is the person standing between Kym's in Moscow and the all around final. Kerry performed even better than expected on the first day, if she could keep it up, she'd bump Kim's Temescal out. The reigning world champion was in danger of not making it to the all around. Her situation was a desperate situation, which most of the other athletes wouldn't be able to go through and still had the power, still have the death throes.
The tanker I'm going to make Bela's tirade in the tunnel worked.
I wanted to make sure you get angrier before just in order to get to that point, to show who to anchor through a grim performance that Kym's Temescal came back with a vengeance on day two.
But you know what? A fighter. Right from the start, she was in trouble at these Olympic Games, but she has battled back every inch of the way, just the dismount. If she sticks, she just might do it. Oh, wow. That was. Double back, perfect, and she doesn't just do what she nails it all around scores for the Americans, Summerskill just speaks up. Kerry struck him, performed flawlessly, helping Team USA win a bronze medal and earning herself a spot in the all around final.
She had regained her momentum and looked like a world champion again. Everybody's been talking about things, let's go start talking about Shannon Miller, 50 years old, from Edmond, Oklahoma, but it was becoming clear that Shannon Miller was the U.S. force to be reckoned with, watching American Shannon Miller establish herself as the woman to beat.
Anthony Braxton, Shannon, scores are up and wow, beautiful work so far, she's hitting every single handstand run out. Shannon Miller and Lily Shannon, known ties for the past, Shannon Miller is a silver medalist here in Barcelona. Steve Nuno is gymnast Shannon Miller, cleaned up Bellaigue just can believe that Kim could be paid. And here comes Shannon Miller. When Shannon started to make her rise and stardom, he was competing against Nonno. It wasn't Summerskill competing against Miller.
It was Coralee competing against nooner because he looked at it that it was coach against coach. When my athlete just kept winning medals, I would come back to God, I've the battle. Now the glass of champagne and he wouldn't raise his glass to me. I'm like Kawabata the wine glass. He would listen to that for seven million. Miller on top and just celebrating, jumping up and down. He hated every moment of it. Shannon won a total of five medals in Barcelona, including a silver in the individual all around him as a mascot.
The reigning world champion was shut out. It has been a tough week for in school Summerskill Crowley, the man who brought her here, Alistar, didn't win a single individual medal, the team bronze, but for the most part, unfulfilled Olympic dreams for Kim.
Still, Kim and the U.S. team had won a bronze medal. It was the first team medal for the United States in an Olympics where the Soviets were competing. And yet it wasn't a triumphant moment. Balla decided he'd had enough. Bella, will this medal and your team coaching career, do you believe? Yes, this medal. It's a nice medal is probably nicer than all the other ones because that's the end of my career. The Crowleys announced their retirement and we were a little bit stunned, a definite decision, that is tonight.
Yes, because of that decision, we disappointed that it didn't come to us.
First they went home and there wasn't a real fat Goodbye Bella study was done coaching elite gymnastics. And then he left Barcelona before the closing ceremony.
People don't realize it's a huge deal for the US team to get a medal in the team competition because they've never medaled in an Olympics when the Soviets are in this case, the former Soviets have been involved. And you had to read between the lines with Karalee what he was upset with and maybe the reason why he's retiring. He can't stand the high level politics. He himself has been involved in them. And he criticized the US leaders and not being more proud of the American bronze last night.
For all who will leave the sport without ever seeing one of his teams be a Romanian or American, defeat the Soviets or their successors at the Olympics. So for all his legendary success, this personal obsession was never put to rest for gymnastics. Most famous coach. Let's talk about Belhadj. What do you think about his announcement that he's retiring? Do you think he'll change his mind or do you think he's really going to. Yeah, I don't believe it.
I know Vella would be a very big loss for their country and he quit. Well, why do you think he's saying he's going to retire if you don't think he really is? I don't know. I don't know. You know, Villa likes to create scandals. He's always in the public eye. He has to say something. I truly in my heart, I don't feel it. I hope he stays in. He's an unbelievable coach. He's creates champion after champion.
We need him. That disbelief over Bella's retirement echoed throughout the media, Bella was women's gymnastics in the United States. Networks built their coverage around him.
This team is coached by arguably the most recognizable name in the sport of women's gymnastics, Bella Coronis. There's no question that Bella is perhaps more famous than some of his great gymnasts like Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comaneci. He's the most passionate.
I'm doing television and I have to sit down with my producers and we plan our stories like we all do, and they are obsessed with Bella.
Cathy Johnson Clark had been an Olympian in 1984 when she retired from elite gymnastics. She moved into the broadcast booth.
He was a centerpiece back then. He had the top athletes and he was a show on the floor. He absolutely was a show.
They wanted to tell that story and look at Delinda and told him that his fellow Comolli was not doing this. He'd be a conductor of an orchestra. You were just coached by Balika lawyer. Everything was about Bella. It is a sport that is bigger than life. A sport is most dominant figure in the world would appear himself bigger than life. A karoly is gymnastics, most recognized names and most dominant personality, a big man in the small persons venue.
I mean, I was literally nauseous at one point. I said, the show is the athletes. I said, You're creating a monster.
Bella was a producer's dream and he knew it.
Bella was very user friendly, probably more than anybody I've ever covered. He knew how to play the game with the media.
Scott Reed is a longtime reporter with the Orange County Register in California, working the media, feeding the media, knowing which buttons to push, tell in this great story and make it accessible, belittling, you know, reality into myths.
He knew that that we would eat it up and swallow it whole without reading the side of the box where the ingredients she got the in the front door.
He's not this big, happy hugging guy all the time in the gym. You need to know that this is a show. This is who he is for television.
Bella Caroll. He was known for being a tough coach for his demanding training regimen. Most commentators didn't know exactly what went on in his gym, but they portrayed it as being hard and disciplined and straight out of his Romanian playbook.
But many wonder what really goes on behind closed doors at Karalis Gym critics claim Crowley is too demanding, too forceful that the ends too often fail to justify the means.
Some people see him as a very ruthless coach who's too tough on the kids, his rigorous training methods, support and abuse. You know, when he is a winner, everywhere he's been, he is a winner.
It was that success and Bella's intensity that drew so many young gymnasts and their parents in the first place. Belloc really was the king of elite gymnastics. He was untouchable. He was the guy who changed American gymnastics forever. Bella Karoly brought that Eastern Bloc no holds barred. You treat these girls like commodities and not like human beings and certainly not like children. Joan Ryan is the author of a book about the culture of gymnastics called Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.
Now, were there other gymnastics coaches who pushed their athletes too hard? Yes, because it was just part of that culture. Many believe the Crowley set that standard, but I would argue it was here way before them. They just perfected it.
Jennifer say was the 1986 national all around champion. She trained for most of her career with one of the Crowley's biggest rivals.
You know, I started gymnastics in 1976. I can tell you people were acting, behaving badly. Back in 1976. There was screaming, hitting sexual abuse. These things were all just sort of standard operating procedure as far back as I can remember.
And if you raised it or said that it was a problem, then you were just too sensitive or too weak or you aren't strong enough to make it in the sport. And so, you know, the Crowleys came here in the early 80s and they brought.
Terrible tactics with them from Romania, but they produce champions and so it validated those strategies, Bella didn't invent the culture, but he set a tone and standards that the U.S. Gymnastics Federation had accepted as the price of results.
We were publicly shamed for our weight.
They were going to loudspeaker and announce what you weighed that day, how much you gained a quarter pound was shameful.
You know, if a child had parents that were overweight, they would be shamed for that.
I was at one time and overstuffed Christmas Turkey at another time. I know my teammates were dead, frogs, whole houses.
Kristie Phillips was the only girl who Sports Illustrated had billed as the new Mary Lou. Some of these things, we would literally be in the top box, you know, putting chalk on our Gretz quite to. He really does call me an overstuffed Christmas turkey. It wasn't just an overstuffed turkey. It was an overstuffed Christmas turkey. Carol Ulrich Dane was one of Christie's teammates. I think probably the hardest and the most awful times were when we were yelled at.
In a way, it was like a lot about, you know, how you look.
You look heavy.
I mean, I remember I was pretty ninety pounds and four foot ten.
And he says, no, actually, you're you're you're as big as a condominium complex, you know, and four of 16, 15 year old girl, it's hard to hear things like that.
It was probably some emotional abuse, if that's the right way to call it.
Between the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, more questions were raised about what elite level gymnastics required of young women, most of whom were still girls, the hours and years of training and the type of training in order to be the best in the world.
By the time they're fifteen and at most sixteen. What does that do to a body that's still developing?
What does that do to a psyche that's still developing behind the smiles, the glamour, the ponytail's of these young athletes going for the gold, the physically and verbally traumatized, our little girls driven to win at all costs.
Did your parents know you were in Joan Ryan's book, detailed what she described as a culture of celebrated child abuse in women's gymnastics. It came out in the lead up to the 1996 Olympics. Her revelations were shocking enough to catch Oprah Winfrey's attention.
Kids, after today's show, you'll see young athletes through different eyes, little girls with fractured bones and broken hearts living in constant fear of a fall from grace. Then ask yourself, are these girls being trained or tortured?
Next, millions of viewers tuned into The Oprah Winfrey Show every weekday to see Oprah's self-help segments and celebrity interviews. In May nineteen ninety six, they watched as Oprah questioned several gymnasts about Bella Karoly.
Do you think Bella gets a bad rap? I think that he he gets a pretty bad rap. Of course, what he does is not always the right thing to do. I'm not saying I'm not saying what he does is right. But to him, that's what he knows how to make a champion. And each person is an individual. If you do believe that's what it takes to make a champion, he's hard on the girls. I don't think that that's the only way to make a champion.
I think that's his way.
Christie Phillips was one of the gymnast Joan interviewed for her book, and she was invited to be a part of Oprah's show that day.
You don't think it's abuse? How I could take it. He really is that sort of inspirational, charismatic character that you instinctively, especially as a young female, you want to please it's like pleasing your dad. So these girls lived for the pat on the head, lived for the smile that he would give you, that you had nailed it. You really did it. You were a good girl. You could characterize it as an abusive relationship, right, because there's this whole dependence enabling thing that goes on that's really complex and it's especially.
Easy. To do that with a young girl who's desperate to achieve her goal because she loves this sport, she's willing to do anything. And then you have this incredibly charismatic guy who has done this over and over with girls, gotten them to the top of the mountain. So I think it's I think it's a very deep, complex relationship that these girls end up having with Bella. Joan went to the Karoly gym in Houston to interview Bella while she was writing her book.
I sat there and I said, Oh, I get it. I get it now. I mean, you want to run through a wall for this guy?
Joan met the gregarious coach who'd convinced Mary Lou's parents to allow their teenage daughter to move far away from home. The first time they met the man who gave Christy Phillips her confidence. And as Joan presented Bella with a disturbing stories she'd heard from gymnasts and parents, he brushed them all off.
You don't see any of my Olympic gold medalists complaining about it, do you? That's what he'd say. These were all losers. So that's why they're complaining and they're trying to blame me for their own failures.
It was anyone's fault.
But his parents, they never looked out for their kids if they had an eating disorder that's on the parents. I'm not their dad.
And. Who you are. I'm Lesley Stahl is 60 Minutes. How you doing? I've been doing great. You've been doing fine. What about these charges that you're very much that these girls all have eating disorders? Well, you know, as the girls there was this I guess what I think I collected a lot of lot of we are having much more important things, right. Not to concentrate what an eating disorder and all the garbage, what you are getting around and trying to make a publicity to a show which has no daily basis to do it.
But it's not just the why don't you say so? I don't do as much garbage what you are gathering. And that's that's a reason to make a living. Did you do these girls good names?
Do you call them fat pigs or do you mean how do you debase them? Mr. Karoly, goodbye.
The U.S. Gymnastics Federation, which became USA gymnastics in 1993, didn't formally respond to Jones book is Opposer says he was told by the head of the women's program to deflect any questions he got was the only one who can produce medals and for them, most important things to survivors.
Medals, medals of never got the medals. They got their sponsors, you know, and the end justifies the means.
In the two years since Bella had stepped away from coaching, the scrutiny of his methods and the overall culture of gymnastics had only grown. But Bella ignored his critics and decided to step back into the arena as an elite coach. His latest protege, Dominique Moceanu, had the look of a champion, and Bella Karoly had every intention of making her once the protege of Bella Karoly, in fact, has kept Bella out of retirement so grateful that is her potential.
She is legit. She has everything that it takes to be a champion. All right. Even a little more than a little bit of money. The next superstar of U.S. gymnastics just might be Dominique Moceanu. If you or someone you know has been subjected to sexual assault or abuse and you would like more information or support, these hotlines can help Rheins 24/7. Confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline, one 800 six five six four six seven three or Childhelp one 800 four two two four four five three.
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Thirty four thirty podcasts are presented by Albats, a sustainable shoe brand, this has been an uneasy year for the entire world. But one thing that is alleviated people's anxiety has been exercise from long walks in the park to jogging around the block to solo routines at home. We've all found a way to keep active. Introducing the tree dasher from Albats, the world's first performance running shoe made from premium natural materials that are engineered to perform FSC certified eucalyptus fiber uppers and CQ Merino wool deliver superior comfort and flexibility and proprietary sugarcane derived sweet foam soles have been reworked into a dual density mitzel optimized for cushioning energy, return and stability.
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I hope so. She was supposed to be the next Nadia Comaneci.
I remember there being so much chaos right before I went for my vault. I said to myself, you can and you will do this. I'm about to go. And I have almost a panic attack inside. Raise your arms.
SNAP down hard, tight turn. Oh, I just ran with my feet slipping from under me.
I was stunned. This girl really could handle the pressure, usually so very strong.
It is up to her. She's the last to go. She's the only one. Do it. Heavy metals was reported by me, Alissa Rolnik and Bonnie Ford, producers Andrew Mambo and Meredith Hoddinott, senior producer Julia Lourie Henderson, executive producers Libby Gaist and Aaron Liden, mix engineering and sound design by Matraca Boully, production management and Licensing Louisiana's Sankei and Jennifer Thore, production assistants Riley Bloom, Gus Navarro, Samantha Dowd and Trevor Guille. Original Music by Ian Costa, executive producers for ESPN, Herschelle, Rob King and Alison Overholt.
This podcast was developed by Jenna Anthony and Adam Newhouse with help from Jody Aragon, additional production support from Amy Van Dewson and Eve Wolf archival producer Julianna Branom. John M. Berardino provided fact checking. Terry Langford did legal research, ESPN Audio, Tom Ricks, Megan, Judge Pete, Jeanna and Ryan Granter special thanks to Jenna Jahnavi and Elaine Tang, Jolene Van View and the production teams at ESPN, L.A. and ESPN New York. This season of 30 for 30 podcast was produced in association with ESPN W.