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Bela Karolyi      

Coach of Gold-Medal Winning U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team

Bela Karolyi was born September 13, 1942, in Cluj, Romania. He has become the most successful coach in the history of gymnastics. His coaching efforts have produced 28 Olympians, nine Olympic Champions, 15 World Champions, 12 European medalists and six U.S. National Champions in 30 years of coaching gymnastics in both his native Romania and the United States. Among his most accomplished gymnasts are Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Julianne McNamara, Phoebe Mills, Kim Zmeskal, Betty Okino, Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu.

Bela and his wife, Martha, defected to the United States during an exhibition tour in 1981. He worked menial jobs to support them at first, but within one year they were coaching gymnastics once again in Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, Bela was approached by a group of businessmen with an offer to coach at a private gym in Houston. When the group faced financial difficulties in October of 1982, Karolyi convinced them to sell the gym to him. He then built the gym into a cornerstone of the American gymnastics movement.

The results speak for themselves. In 1991, he led the U.S. team to a silver medal finish at the World Championships, the first team medal the U.S. women had ever won in World Championships competition. His gymnast, Kim Zmeskal, also won the all-around title, again the first time a U.S. athlete had ever won a World Championships all-around title. The following year, Bela led the charge to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, where the United States captured its first medal in eight years. The team bronze medal was also the first time since 1948 that the U.S. had won an Olympic team medal in a non-boycotted Olympics.

After the 1992 Olympic Games, Bela Karolyi announced his retirement from elite level coaching, but still maintained his gym and summer camp. In 1994, Zmeskal asked Bela to assist in her comeback attempt for the 1996 Olympic Games; he could not refuse, announcing his return to the elite coaching ranks. That same year he co-authored his life story in a book titled "Feel No Fear. "

In addition to Zmeskal, Karolyi coached Dominique Moceanu and Kerri Strug, who went on the win the team gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Along the way, Moceanu became the youngest athlete to win the U.S. National Championships at the age of 13, and claimed a silver medal on the balance beam at the 1995 World Championships. In 1996, Strug won the McDonald's American Cup, earning Bela his 11th champion in the prestigious event. The following year, in 1997, Karolyi was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

In 2000, Karolyi was named women's national team coordinator for USA Gymnastics. In 2001, his wife Martha took over this position. For the 2008 Olympic Games, Karolyi served as a guest commentator for NBC News.

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