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Q&A With USA Gold-Medal Winning Gymnast Dominique Moceanu

For anyone who watched Dominique Moceanu and her U.S. gymnastics teammates win gold at the summer Olympics in Atlanta, it might be hard to believe that it happened 25 years ago.

Fast forward to now, and Moceanu, who at 14 was the youngest member of that 1996 gold-medal squad, is still involved in gymnastics. She’s also a businesswoman, a yogi, and a mom whose son has Olympic dreams of his own.

We caught up with Moceanu this week as she prepares to partner with Purely Inspired, a Superfoods line now available for sale at Walmart. We talked about her memories from Atlanta, her history as an outspoken change agent in the world of gymnastics, her family and more.

Let’s get started…

The Spun: Obviously, the 25th anniversary of the “Magnificent Seven” and your team gold medal at Atlanta in 1996 is coming up. Looking back on it, what is it like for you seeing that its been 25 years, and do you have anything special planned for it?

Dominique Moceanu: Well, I actually have been planning a special project that I’m releasing next week as part of the 25th anniversary celebration. There wasn’t anything really being done by anything else. I’ve been launching my YouTube channel, so my first episode will be featured next week. I’m really excited. It’s going to celebrate that 25th anniversary.

It’s a reflective first episode, where I talk a lot about the 25th anniversary and what those moments at the Olympics meant to me. It talks about what I’m doing now, from my mindset as a businesswoman, coach, mom, wife, all the aspects of my life now in comparison to what I felt like then. I’m really excited about that.

With the 25th anniversary, I’m looking back at all the growth and the person I’ve become over the last 25 years. I’m really proud of that person to be honest.

The Spun: When does that first episode come out? I know you said next week. Do you know what day yet?

DM: I’m working on that now. We’re getting the final edits done so I’m hoping to drop it Tuesday.

The Spun: Your team was the first to ever win the women’s team all-around gold medal at the Olympics. Since then, the US has won it a couple of more times. When you look at the last 25 years, how has gymnastics evolved in the United States? Not just for women but for the men as well.

DM: I think women’s gymnastics has always been one of the most popular sports at the Olympic games. Everybody tunes in. The fans love it, I love it. Over the years, it took 16 years for another U.S. team to win Olympic gold after us, so I think we really paved the way for a lot of little girls in this country to believe that they could do it. Our team was historic. Businesses got a boost after that Olympic success. A lot of businesses were grateful and thankful that girls wanted to go to their gyms and do gymnastics. So it definitely helped the economy.

We made history by being that first team to do what everybody thought was impossible. But it was a double-edged sword competing in the United States [in those Olympics]. On one hand, it was a lot of pressure, but on the other hand, you had the homecourt advantage.

But over the years, it took about 16 years for the next team to win Olympic gold, and then after that it has been sailing upwards every single time. I’m really proud of what our programs have done amidst a lot of stuff that people didn’t know was going on behind the scenes. They did it in really difficult circumstances. We all did. Now, I think the culture is shifting in a positive and upward trend from everything that happened in the dark shadows all those years. We’re kind of getting rid of all the toxic energy that was around our sport and making positive changes.

The Spun: That answer actually segues into two of our next questions, so you can answer them one at a time. The first one is, thinking back to yourself and your teammates 25 years ago, you’ve mentioned some of the pressure and expectations. Did you all understand in the moment how big of a deal it was? What was going through your mind and their minds?

Secondly, you’ve been outspoken in the past about gymnastics culture and things that needed to change, different abuses that were going on and needed to be rectified. When you look at what has happened since you’ve spoken out, do you feel that gymnastics is trending in a positive direction?

DM: Well, to question one, yes, we did know the magnitude. Because we had been told that we were going to be the first U.S. women’s gymnastics team to win gold. We were going to make history. I knew that was pretty big. I was the youngest on the team and I’d always been the youngest. The pressure I was never afraid of. I was never scared of that.

I was so glad for that opportunity. It was such a monumental moment. It was the centennial Olympic games, no U.S. women’s team had ever done this, we did it, we had the homecourt advantage. It was a made-for-TV story. We finally did it at home in Atlanta and with Kerri’s vault being the final [clincher]. From a television perspective, it was a spectacle that was beyond what everybody could have imagined. I’m really proud of our team for doing that under the circumstances we had. We were all dealing with different things in our lives and our injury levels and things like that. But ultimately, we paved the way for future generations.

On the other side, the darkness that came to light recently, I have been outspoken for over a decade about that. Nobody wanted to listen, and maybe if they looked into it at that time a little deeper, and if the former CEO’s ego wasn’t at the center of his decision-making, we would have come to an agreement that we needed to assess this and look at it. But they didn’t want to hear it. It was much easier to blame me as someone who was an outcast and was bitter and could just be pushed away from the sport. They brushed people under the rug whenever there were complaints about things like that. I get that they didn’t want me complaining, but I was also talking about something that was a very large part of our culture and our community and they didn’t want to listen. You have to have some accountability.

The Spun: Looking ahead, your 12-year-old son Vincent is looking to follow in your footsteps and compete in the Olympics as a gymnast. What has it been like for you to see this side of gymnastics as a parent?

DM: Well, obviously, from a mom standpoint, I’m super proud. I’m just really proud of my son. I see how he’s dedicated, how he gets up and works hard and also takes care of his schoolwork. I just see the work ethic he’s developed and his character, his moral compass and his good-natured spirit. I’m really proud of the young man he’s becoming. His first age-eligible Olympics will be the 2028 Olympic Games in LA. I’m really excited to see where it will take him. My husband is his full-time coach. I help when necessary, but I’m mostly the supportive mom and I coach the girls. Him being the only boy and just being coached by his dad is a unique situation, but they’ve created such a good bond and they know how to work together so well.

It’s going to be exciting to see. He’s going to be a big, bright shining star, if he wants it. I told him we’re going to support him all the way but you can’t do it halfway. It’s too many hours, too much dedication. So if he’s going to do this path, we said “hey, you can stop at any time, but if you’re going to do it, you have to give 100 percent.” Because we know how hard it is.

The Spun: Our last question is kind of a fun one. If you were creating a USA gymnastics Mt. Rushmore, who would you put on it?

DM: Wow! Well you have to put the most dedicated athlete on it, Simone [Biles]. You’ve got to put people that paved the way, people who broke records and made history at the very beginning. Can it be only U.S.? Or can it be foreign athlete too? Because that changes things.

The Spun: You can give us both if you want!

DM: Okay, so sticking with the American Mt. Rushmore. Obviously you have to put Simone up there. You have to put the youngest person who ever won gold [myself]. You have to put the first person who ever won the all-around title, Mary Lou [Retton]. You have to put the first woman who won the first world championship on, Kim Zmeskal. As much as Kim has said some hurtful words towards me when I was speaking out, I forgave her in my own way and I would put her on. Because she was really the face of American gymnastics in the 1990s. But I also feel like Dominique Dawes has earned her spot on there. I know there’s only four spaces. You could take myself out, the youngest American female gymnast to win gold, but I think you have to put a lot of the firsts in there. But also Dawes was one of the first African-Americans. So Dominique Dawes has earned her stripes in paving the way and being a three-time Olympian. So right there I feel like you have a pretty good handful.

Worldwide, I would still say Simone of course, because she’s the most decorated. I would say Nadia Comaneci. I would say Ecaterina Szabo. I think Svetlana Khorkina. Maybe Svetlana Boginskaya. But I only get four. I keep giving you extra!

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.

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