BACK ON THE BEAM
Dominique Moceanu, on her own at last, is training again--and
Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, whose fight for legal
independence from her parents kept her away from the gym for
nearly four months, plans to make her comeback at a competition
in China on April 5. "It'll be a couple of months before I'm
back in the shape I was in when I won the Goodwill Games [last
July]," the 17-year-old Moceanu says. "In 14 years of gymnastics
I'd never taken even a month off, so it's not going to be easy.
But you've got to believe and go forward if you're going to
achieve your dreams."
Since December, when a Texas district judge granted a protective
order against Dominique's domineering and abusive father,
Dumitru, forbidding him to speak to her directly or come within
500 feet of her residence, school or workout facility for one
year (SI, Dec. 21, 1998), Dominique has been searching for a
place to train. In late January she moved from Houston to
Orlando to begin working out with her coach, Luminita Miscenco,
at Brown's Gymnastics Central, a facility run by Rita Brown, a
former coach who owns five gyms. Brown reportedly paid Moceanu's
moving costs, bought about $15,000 worth of new equipment and
cosigned four-month leases on apartments for the gymnast and her
coach. But Moceanu, who is accustomed to training privately,
left with Miscenco after 2 1/2 weeks.
Brown says she found out that Moceanu was moving to the Olympic
Training Center in Colorado Springs when Moceanu announced the
move during a television interview. Brown says she feels "a
little used" by Moceanu and calls her "a lost little girl."
Early signs are that Moceanu is beginning to find herself again
in Colorado Springs, where she has been working out since Feb.
16. The price is certainly right. She is not charged for room
and board at the Olympic Training Center--an important
consideration, since Dumitru appears to have used Dominique's
trust fund to secure financing for a huge gym near Houston.
Dominique lives in a two-bedroom dormitory unit with Miscenco.
"Things are working out great for me here," she says. By
training 6 1/2 hours a day, she has lost most of the 15 pounds
she'd added since walking out of her father's gym on Oct. 17,
and she's regaining strength and flexibility. She can already do
her entire repertoire on the balance beam, her favorite
apparatus, but is struggling with the vault and the uneven bars.
"The altitude here still affects me a lot," she says, "but once
I can do my routines here, I know I'll be able to do them
Moceanu says she'll stay in Colorado Springs at least until
September, when she'll try to qualify at the U.S. World Team
Trials--her chief goal before the 2000 Olympics. She
occasionally talks by phone to her mother, Camelia, and her
little sister, Christina, and believes that one day she and her
father will reconcile. "I know he's sad and wants to see me,"
Dominique says. "My mom says he's coming around, he's changing.
Time will heal everything. There's still some hurt. Sometimes
I'm lonely. But when I was young, I was taught to be tough, and
I believe if I can overcome this, I can overcome anything. I
want to prove to everyone that I can do it on my own."
U.S. Downhiller Makes Good
A GAIN IN SPAIN
After crossing the finish line in the World Cup downhill final
in Sierra Nevada, Spain, on March 10, Chad Fleischer whirled to
check the number next to his name on the scoreboard. Seeing a 2,
he wondered briefly if the computer was going to spew out an
additional digit. Not so long ago it was news when Fleischer
simply reached the bottom--he estimates that he crashed once
every two runs during his first four seasons on the World Cup
circuit--and a top 10 placement would have astounded him.
"Actually, I was looking for a 1 in front of the 2," says the
6'2 1/2", 220-pound Fleischer, the biggest though not always
best hope for the U.S. in the downhill, "but it wasn't a huge
surprise getting second. It was more like, 'It's about time.' I
didn't go crazy."
The 27-year-old Fleischer's finish behind Lasse Kjus of Norway,
who won the overall World Cup title on Sunday, occasioned the
first trip to the podium by a member of the U.S. men's team in
four years. Fleischer had shown signs that he was ready to,
excuse us, crash through. He finished a strong sixth in the
Super G last month at the world championships in his hometown of
Vail, Colo., and he has had an upright season except for a
tumble in a training run at Kitzbuhel in Austria. Fleischer
might have won the downhill there in 1995, but he took the last
jump too soon and fell six seconds from the finish, losing a
competition but gaining a nickname. The course announcer
screamed in German, "Attention! Attention! That is the Butcher."
(In German, Fleischer means "butcher.") The moniker has stuck,
though Fleischer began to temper his aggressiveness with
technique and a hint of prudence after a conversation with
French downhill star Luc Alphand in '96. "He told me I was an
amazing skier," Fleischer says, "but I simply couldn't keep
Fleischer bumbled along a while more--last season he was slowed
by a decision to change equipment and by a case of food
poisoning--but last summer he hired a personal trainer. "Chad
was always strong," U.S. national men's coach Bill Egan says.
"Now he's fit."
Fleischer is also ready for the podium, his focus having shifted
from racing to winning. Close--like the .16 of a second he
finished behind Kjus--might count only in hand grenades, but at
least Fleischer no longer skis as if he just pulled the pin.
Canada's Star Woman Goalie
SHOULDER SAVE--AND A BEAUTY
Sami Jo Small, a Stanford mechanical engineering major from
Winnipeg, keeps her senior project close to her heart--and many
other vital organs. Small developed and wears a prototype of an
upper-body protector for female goaltenders that she dubbed Abs
of Steel. Considering some of the 26 saves she made on Sunday in
Canada's 3-1 victory over the U.S. in the women's world hockey
championship final in Espoo, Finland, the gizmo should be
rechristened Abs of Steal. "She's a definite talent who knows
how to use her size," says Cammi Granato, the U.S. captain. "She
doesn't leave a lot of net to shoot at." Small is 5'7" and
weighs 187 pounds without her homemade underwear, which makes
her almost as big as her team's victory was back home.
This was a first installment of hockey payback for Canada, which
had lost to the U.S. 3-1 in the women's Olympic gold medal game
last year in Nagano. Although Canada's women had never lost a
match in the previous four world championships, they were seeded
second behind the U.S. this time. Canadian star Haley
Wickenheiser at first characterized the tournament as
"unfinished business," but after the final she intimated that
the natural order in women's hockey can't be fully restored
until the 2002 Olympics. "All we did here was lay a footprint,"
Small plans to be in Salt Lake City for the first leg of what
could be a Winter-Summer Olympics parlay. She doubles as a
discus thrower and is thinking about trying for Athens in 2004.
The 22-year-old goalie, who first went to Stanford on a track
scholarship, started out as a javelin thrower, but two
operations on her right shoulder forced her to concentrate on
the discus. "I didn't consider any hockey schools," says Small.
"Actually it was the shoulder injuries that pushed me more to
hockey. With track, I was spending 24 hours a day on a
physiotherapist's table. With hockey, at least I could help a
Not that Canada seemed eager for her aid. Small wasn't invited
to the Olympic tryouts in 1997, but after going to Canadian
Hockey headquarters in Calgary and introducing herself to then
coach Shannon Miller, she made it to Nagano as the emergency
goaltender, allowed neither to practice nor to play. She got her
chance to become a star last week in part because Manon Rheaume,
who started the Olympic final for Canada, is pregnant.
In the win over the U.S. on Sunday, Small demonstrated a
mobility often lacking in big goalies. She made a splendid save
with her bum right shoulder in the closing minute of a scoreless
first period, the best among a passel of noteworthy stops in the
first half. Those saves steadied Canada until it took charge
against a U.S. team that, with nine players who weren't in the
1998 Games, was feeling its way.
Incidentally, Small's Abs of Steel project at Stanford got an A.
Her goaltending in Finland got an A-plus. --M.F.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVE BLACK Family strife turned her life upside down, but Moceanu has found stability in her workouts.
COLOR PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS American hope Fleischer has finally learned to fly without crashing.