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Dominique Moceanu
Magnificent 7 Gymnast
is now a Magnificent Mentor

In 1981, Camelia and Dimitri Moceanu left Romania and came to the United States to find a better life for the unborn child Camelia was carrying. Dimitri came 6 months ahead of his wife with $15.00 in his pocket. It was his mission to find housing for his wife and new baby.

He found a home for them in Hollywood, California and on September 30th, Dominique Moceanu was born - in America!

Olympic Champion Gymnast Dominique Moceanu June 2007

Olympic Champion Gymnast Dominique Moceanu
- June 2007

"I so admire my parents" says Dominique. "They knew they had to leave their home in order to provide a better life for the family they were about to have. I can't imagine how difficult that was, but they knew it was the best thing."

The family stayed in Hollywood a short time and then moved to Chicago. Her parents knew even before Dominique was born that their first daughter would be a gymnast. Both Camellia and Dimitri had been competitive gymnasts.

"Every little girl in Romania wanted to be the next Nadia [Comaneci]. And every parent hoped that their child would be."

Young Gymnast Dominique Moceanu

Young Gymnast Dominique Moceanu

Nadia Comaneci, twenty years Dominique's senior, not only won five Olympic gold medals, but was the first athlete ever to be awarded a perfect ten in an Olympic gymnastic event.

The family was not disappointed. They saw instantly that she had a good sense of coordination and air awareness. "Going to the gym was a big playground for me and I always looked forward to it." Air awareness is the gymnast's term given to the sense of flipping in the air.

Dominique never experienced fear; she was instilled with a natural ability to do it. She says, "This has always been my dream. I would spend 8 or 9 hours a day just playing around, training and learning. It was a big playground for me - my free place to just be me."

Starting at age three Dominique began learning the basics and excelled quickly. By age 6 she was performing at a teen level and by age nine she was performing triple flips in the air; a skill unheard of for her age. "I was never held back by fear."

Young Gymnast Dominique Moceanu

Young Dominique Moceanu

Dominique considers gymnastics to be one of the greatest sports in the world. "It promotes coordination and flexibility" and "allows you opportunities throughout your future, not just your peak years."

She began competing at age seven winning in both vault and floors. In Olympic terms "floors" includes vault, uneven bars, balance beams and floor exercises.

Around age four, Dominique and her family moved to Florida where she was enrolled in LeFleur's Gym of Tampa. Dominique really flourished there. "The trainer was very tough - but not mean. I was never held back because of my age. It was here I learned the triple flip off of the uneven bars."

Soon there was media attention and news coverage and Dominique was being billed as an "Olympic Hopeful." The first time she heard this she knew this was what she wanted to do. Her desire to win a gold medal made her work even harder.

Meanwhile, her parents had been talking to the world-renown Romanian gymnastic trainers Marta and Bela Karolyi whose gym was in Houston, Texas. They had also been the coach of Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton. Once she was nine years old, they made the move and Dominique started her training under these legendary coaches.

There were only two students, including Dominique, who were that young. The other was Jennie Thompson, six months older. Jennie went on to fair well above average in competitive gymnastics and is now the Strength and Fitness Coach at her alma mater, Oregon State. "The Karoly's were training the '92 Olympics team and us two little squirts."

This was the first time Dominique really realized how serious this was. "There was a real emphasis on discipline in every aspect of your day. It was all part of the training."

For example, nothing other than punctuality was tolerated. Students were expected to greet the Instructors with "Good Morning" every day. Failure to do so or to come in late would result in the student being sent home. That would mean no training for the day and that was not acceptable.

"Bela was six foot and I was four foot nothing. I was scared of messing up and not getting picked up. That's why I became so good so young. What I had to do to become that good was to become an adult very quickly."

When the Karolyi's went to the '92 Olympics Dominique was put with other coaches. The Karolyis actually retired after the '92 games, but came back in 1995 to work with Dominique.

Young Gymnast Dominique Moceanu on the balance beam

Young Dominique Moceanu on the balance beam

"I took a lot of spills and falls. I learned how to fall. The important thing is not to be tentative or hesitant, that's the quickest way to break something." She adds that it is also important to always follow through with a skill. She learned at an early age that even if you fall you get up and carry on.

Nothing about her growing up was completely normal for young Dominique. She went to Public School but then was home schooled her freshman year of high school because it was the year of the Olympics. She went back to finish her high school at Northland Christian when the Olympics were over.

Throughout her school days she was competing constantly and training seven to eight hours a day, six or seven days a week. "We never really let our bodies recover enough."

Because of a stress fracture in her tibia, Dominique was told she could not compete in the Olympic Trials. She petitioned to be judged on her national scores only which increased the pressure and decreased the odds. She continued to train even though right up to a month before the Olympics she didn't know if she would be competing or not.

"Most other sports, the athlete knows a year or more in advance if he or she will be going to the Olympics. Gymnasts are always the last to know."

Finally, the announcement came. Dominique was going to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. "I ran the whole gambit of emotions. There were lots of nerves, sometimes terrified. It was very emotional. And then I knew it was time to focus." Dominique was 14 years old.

Dominique had some say in the choreography and attire, but for the most part the coaches made the decisions. Bela picked out the music for the floor tunes, "but" says Dominique "I have to admit it was a very good choice." The song was "The Devil went down to Georgia."

At that time, there were twice as many compulsories as there are today. A competitor needed two sets of routines including twelve beam, ten bar, sixty vault and four floors.

Gymnast Dominique Moceanu on the balance beam

Dominique Moceanu competing on the beam

When they got to Atlanta "auto-pilot kicked in. But we were all very nervous. We were the first women's team with a chance to win the gold." They also became the first women's team to actually win it.

Having the Olympics on U.S. soil made it extra special for Dominique. There were 34,000 people in the stands and millions watching on television. "They were yelling U-S-A and it was truly awesome."

Dominique is one of those people who respond well to an audience. Stage fright was never an issue for her "The more people the better for me."

She always liked the crowd and having someone watch her perform. "A crowd would get my adrenaline going, but in the gym there is no motivation. When there is a crowd you don't want to let them down."

Dominique was part of a team who became known s the Magnificent Seven. The team members were Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps and of course, Dominique. "Amanda was the team captain and she really helped us, especially with the fear and nervousness in the beginning."

The moment of hearing the national anthem being sung and standing in front of millions of people accepting the medal on behalf of the United States was, as Dominique puts it "surreal." It was an emotional moment for all of the girls.

"There were camera flashes going off like strobe lights in the audience. I knew that dreams really could come true. And then they raised the flags. There was The United States flag rising above the Russian [bronze] and Romanian {silver]. It was unbelievable. These were our arch rivals for years. There was an overwhelming amount of pride knowing that we didn't let our country down."

Gymnast Dominique Moceanu with gold medal from Atlanta 1996 Olympics

Olympic Champion Dominique Moceanu with gold medal from 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Every year on the anniversary of their win, July 23, the ladies contact each other by either email, phone or text messaging. Dominique is still in close contact with Kerri Strug, and talks to her at least once a week.

Life has never been the same since the Olympics. Dominique was given opportunities to travel around the world. She went to the White House twice and had the opportunity to meet President Clinton.

She received thousands of letters every week and her lawn was strewn with flowers and teddy bears. In 1996-97 she went on a 100 city tour with the other members of the team - all but one. Kerry had prior commitments.

"It was hard to believe. Here I was signing autographs and people were actually crying. So many people said how inspired they were. They would say I always loved the sport and I love you. It really means a lot to know you inspired someone."

Dominique still tries to inspire children. She believes that being a role model is part of the package. "When you are part of the upper echelon of a sport, like it or not you are an inspiration and you have a responsibility to be mindful of what that inspiration is."

Gymnast Dominique Moceanu with gold medal from Atlanta 1996 Olympics

Dominique Moceanu and her Olympic gold medal

"Life is all about choices" she says, "I chose discipline and sports and that means no parties or sleep overs. It was never allowed. No fattening foods; only good food that could be used to fuel my body." Of course as a child she would give in to a candy urge form time to time. "It was more about good choices than deprivation."

Dominique had a masseuse, Janice Ward, whom she "adopted" as her aunt. Aunt Janice always had a box of Snackwells® [snack cakes] in her drawer so that when Dominique came in there was always something there for her.

"She just wanted me to be able to be a kid. I was only 70 pounds, so it never really upset anything. The coaches didn't like it but it gave my life a little balance.

Dominique Moceanu

Aunt Janice also gave her a bear stuffed with candy to take to the Olympics and was with Dominique when she experienced her first Easter egg hunt - complete with jelly beans.

"Now my diet is much more normal. Moderation is the key. I work out and try to maintain a good balance."

Dominique retired from competitive gymnastics in 2001. She had shoulder injuries and bone chips and other assorted problems. "Basically my body told me if I don't stop I wouldn't be walking at age 35. I was very lucky I didn't blow my knee out completely."

When gymnastics ended for Dominique, she was in what she calls "a dark place." She put on weight, slowly gaining forty pounds. "I was really lacking in self esteem because I was no longer doing the thing I did best." She says depression set in.

She had too much time on her hands and was physically not up to working out like she did. "I felt I had failed because I didn't make the second Olympic team, even though it was out of my hands." She felt that she had reached her life time dream - what was left to do?

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales engagement photo

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales
engagement photo

In 1994, she met a young man by the name of Mike Canales, also a gymnast. They crossed paths periodically, but just casually until 2001 when they both retired. Mike was studying to be a doctor and as Dominique describes it "big into education." The chemistry was there this time and Dominique and Mike fell in love. She knew it was time to make new dreams and set new goals.

Mike was very supportive of Dominique and her depression but would not let her sit back and mope. With Mike's help, she decided to go back to school. She earned an associates degree from CCC and is currently only three semesters away from a degree in Business Management from John Carroll University.

On November 4, 2006, Dominique and Mike were married in Houston, Texas. Her younger sister, Christina, was her maid of honor and Aunt Janice was part of the wedding party.

Among the guests were Amanda Borden, Dominique Dawes and Kerri Strug, (also in the wedding party), Paul and Morgan Hamm, Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci.

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales wedding

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales

Her husband, Mike, is now practicing medicine at St. Vincent Charity Hospital "So we won't even have to leave Cleveland." Dominique is coaching part time at Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights and continues to travel and motivate young girls in need of advice and inspiration.

She tells them they must have a back up plan. "The Olympics are wonderful, but only six girls every four years get to go. A college degree is more important than anything else."

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales wedding

The Happy Couple

Dominique Moceanu in wedding dress

Dominique Moceanu in her wedding dress

Dominique has a website of her own Dominique-Mocenanu.com where you can buy her posters, DVD and even a bobble head. She wrote a book Dominique Moceanu: An American Champion and has been the subject of other books.

She keeps her gold medal in a fire proof box. Husband Mike also has a collection of medals especially those from Ohio State. "Someday, if we live in a larger house, we will make a room for the trophies and medals."

Dominique Moceanu with Olympic Gold Medal

Dominique Moceanu with Olympic Gold Medal

Although the Olympic Gold is the highlight of her medal and trophy, it is certainly not the only one she won. She came in first in the Goodwill Games, The US Championships and The Pan American Games. In addition, she ranked in innumerable other, prestigious events.

Dominique loves being a homebody and Mike and she like playing with their toy poodle, Princess. They are a very active couple and enjoy walking, snorkeling, playing tennis and just spending time with each other and their family.

Dominique and Mike just announced exciting news. They are expecting their first child in January. "We are so excited," said Moceanu. "Mike and I have talked about starting a family for so long. It’s really a dream come true."

She continues, "We love it in Ohio and look forward to raising a family here. Bringing a precious new life into this world is the ultimate achievement – and we can’t wait!"

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales

Dominique Moceanu and Mike Canales
- soon to be proud parents

She also loves to cook- especially baking sweet treats, but keeps the balance by also making grilled chicken breasts, steaks and salads with olive oil and lots of feta cheese.

Dominique traveled to the Olympics in 2000 and 2004 with Sports Illustrated and hopes to go again in 2008. She loves to travel and hopes to return to Romania for a visit. "I was there when I was three but I would like to go as an adult."

Mike's roots are in Spain and she would also love to go there with him. "I have been to Australia and Japan with the Olympics but I think it would be wonderful to go back now with my husband."

Dominique Moceanu at Sports Banquet in January 2007

Dominique Moceanu at Sports Banquet in January 2007

"Life is always about choices." This is the message Dominique tries to instill in the young girls she talks to and coaches. She tells them to never stop dreaming and believing in themselves. "You have to get knocked down to get back up and when you do, you're stronger for it."

Dominique was knocked down in 2006 when she tried to compete in the Nationals and was denied. But she made the most of it.

"I exposed the behind the scenes truths. It was not fair the way I was treated. It was not my fault I was denied. I've already seen changes made as a result. Of course they will never credit me or my story with the changes they're making, but I will always know."

Olympic Champion Gymnast Dominique Moceanu

Olympic Champion Gymnast Dominique Moceanu

Legend has it that the original Olympians were Greek gods and goddesses who resided on Mount Olympus. The meaning has changed through the centuries, but the power of the term has not.

To call someone an Olympian brings to mind superior athletes, and majestic endeavors. More than a mere sporting event, the Olympics gathers people from around the world to represent the best their country has to offer.

Young Dominique was not large in stature and yet she stands out as a powerful, committed, disciplined woman who took her God-given talent to its extreme and proudly represented her country in Atlanta.

Dominique Moceanu in June 2007

Dominique Moceanu in June 2007

She stood tall that day on the platform and she can stand tall today as an example to young girls with dreams and aspirations.

She had a dream. She made it come true and she went on to dream another dream. A winner in so many ways, Dominique is truly an inspiration.

Profiled by Debbie Hanson (6/07)

Update: Dominique Moceanu and her husband, Dr. Michael Canales welcomed their first baby on Christmas Day 2007.
See photos and learn more.

Dominique Moceanu discusses the 2008 Olympics
Dominique dishes on the Chinese age controversy, the Karolyi's, Shawn Johnson, He Kexin, Nastia Liukin & more

Dominique Moceanu and Diana Munz speak to student athletes at the 2010 World Student Games.
See photos and videos.

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