Famous gymnast Dominique Moceanu, part of the “Magnificent Seven” who won gold at the 1996 Olympics, has revealed how she discovered her parents gave up for adoption a secret sister who had no legs.
Dominique Moceanu, now 30 and living in Cleveland, Ohio, only found out about her younger sister two decades later when the woman wrote to her to say she had learned her birth name was Moceanu.
“It was the biggest bombshell of my life,” Dominique Moceanu told ABC’s 20/20.
“I had this sister that was born who was given up for adoption, and I never knew it.”
The gymnast had a famously fraught relationship with her parents, divorcing them when she was 17. She was also granted a restraining order against her father, after she accused him of stalking her.
When the 20-year-old woman contacted her with a letter and photographs of herself just over five years ago, Dominique Moceanu contacted her parents with questions, ABC News reported.
Dimitry and Camelia Moceanu, who moved from their native Romania in the 1980s and had both been keen athletes, told her the baby girl was born the day after her sixth birthday.
They added that the baby had medical problems that would require expensive care that they could not afford, so they gave her up for adoption. The woman confirmed this story.
“Oh by the way, I have no legs,” she told Dominique Moceanu.
“But people forget that within minutes of meeting me.”
The women now meet regularly and have noticed similarities, such as their love of gymnastics.
“The tones in our voices, our handwriting, the way we laugh and chuckle. It’s mind-blowing,” Dominique Moceanu said.
The revelation is just one of many made by the Olympic gold medalist in her autobiography Off Balance and in an interview with 20/20, which will air on Friday evening.
Dominique Moceanu recounts her struggle to reach the top – and how she was plagued by her over-bearing parents, who had both been athletes and wanted their child to have an interest in the same.
“I think [my dad] wanted me to do something that he didn’t get a chance to do,” Dominique Moceanu said.
They enrolled their daughter in a gymnastics class when she was three, and she took to it at once.
Focusing on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, her parents took her to try out for famous Olympic gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi when she was nine and she was accepted.
After winning the 1995 U.S. National Championships aged just 13, she was accepted for the U.S. Olympics team, despite suffering a stress fracture in her leg.
At the Games, Dominique Moceanu’s first three rounds went off perfectly, but she fell twice during her final event – the vault – and she knew she would be punished for it.
As the team collected their gold medals, Dominique Moceanu said she knew her father would berate her following the ceremony.
“I have this gold medal around my neck. I wanted to take it off. I was devastated. It was heartbreaking,” she said.
A few years later, Dominique Moceanu successfully filed for emancipation from her parents. She claimed they had repressed her and squandered her fortune.
She was also granted a restraining order against her father, who had stalked her. She also feared he had hired someone to kill two of her close friends.
Dominique Moceanu eventually reconciled with both of her parents. Her father died in 2008 from cancer.
An injury kept her from the 2000 Olympics and she went to college and married a fellow gymnast, Mike Canales, in 2006. They have two children.
After retiring from the sport twice – in 2000 and 2006 – Dominique Moceanu now works as a gymnastics coach in the Cleveland area and holds private clinics around the country.
She has continued to make headlines; in 2008, she claimed her coaches, the Karolyis, had abused her during practices as a child.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, she claimed Martha Karolyi had grabbed her neck and slammed her face into a phone, while Bela Karolyi had twice chided her about her weight in front of national teammates.
“I never, ever objected to hard work,” Dominique Moceanu said in the interview.
“What I objected to was Martha grabbing me by the neck, shoving my face into the phone and telling me to call my parents when I hurt my neck in practice.
“I objected to being told to jump onto a scale in front of the 1995 world championship team, of being forced to do 16 uneven bars routines in a row by Martha.
“I was completely embarrassed by Bela in front of the 2000 national training team at camp.
“He completely belittled me and my weight, singled me out and made me feel very small.
“It was unfair treatment. Martha’s logic is so false but no one would listen to a 14-year-old. I was never allowed to speak out.”
Martha Karolyi responded that the comments made her feel “sad” that Dominique Moceanu only appeared to remember the hard days of work, rather than the championship wins.
The coaches are credited for the young girl’s success.
“Bela Karolyi is the greatest kingmaker we have seen in gymnastics,” said USA sports columnist Christine Brennan.
“And Dominique Moceanu had to have Bela Karolyi to become the gymnast that she was to become.”