Recognition In Competition
In an unconventional move, the Karolyis provided the most agile of the young girls between the ages seven and eleven with training in gymnastics. Although training in women's gymnastics at that time was reserved for older girls in their mid-teens, Karolyi's students made rapid strides in part because of their youthful bravado. The pre-adolescent girls took easily to learning to perform somersaults and back flips in mid air. Because of their tiny frames, they performed these gyrations easily, even between the parallel bars. Because of their small lithe body types they experienced relatively few injuries from falls and other mishaps. Karolyi called them flying squirrels because of their graceful airborne movements.
Within three years he had assembled six gymnastics teams of pre-adolescent girls. He took the squads to competitions where they prevailed over much older contestants—many as old as 15 to 17 years old. Gymnastics officials, taking notice of the new and younger gymnasts from Vulcan, labeled Karolyi's teams as experimental. A new, junior competition division was defined to accommodate these youngsters, and by the late 1960s junior gymnastic teams were forming nationally throughout Romania.
In August of 1968 the national Education Ministerium recruited Karolyi to start a national institute for the training of gymnasts. He abandoned the gym at Vulcan and established a facility at a decade-old chemical-factory town called Onesti. The mayor of Onesti donated a school building and a dormitory, and provided funding to Karolyi to build a gymnasium in the town. After scouting throughout the region, he recruited his first class of six- and seven-year olds for the new institute. Among them was a young street tumbler named Nadia Comaneci and her schoolmate Viorica Dumitru.Comaneci was destined to become an Olympic champion, while Dumitru developed into a premiere ballerina.
After a state-sponsored exhibition tour to the United States in 1971, Karolyi took his team to the Eastern Block Friendship Cup competition in Sofia in 1972. With the budding Olympian Comaneci on the squad, Karolyi's girls upset the competition, beating both East Germany and the Soviet Union for the silver medal.Comaneci took the gold medal in the all-around individual competition.
Under Karolyi the Romanians dominated the competition in 1973 and again in 1974, but they were barred that year by the Romanian government from competing at the global level before age 15. Karolyi's squad performed instead in a Paris exposition after the world championships. One year later, at the European championship of 1975, Comaneci bested a 23-year-old Russian, Lyudmila Turishcheva, who had dominated Russian women's gymnastics in the late 1960s and the women's all-around competition since 1972.
Famous Sports StarsGymnasticsBela Karolyi Biography - Early Life In Romania, Recognition In Competition, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Olympians, Dissatisfaction - SELECTED WRITINGS BY KAROLYI: