Bela Karolyi, Gymnastics Coach

November 13, 2008 7:14:54 PM PST
Legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi talks about Chicago's chances of winning the 2016 Olympics. BELA KAROLYI (BIO)

A Profile Bela Karolyi is director of the U.S. Women's National Team Training Center in Huntsville, Texas. He is responsible for the management, operation and funding of the 30,000 square foot facility. Regarded as one of the world's most successful gymnastics coaches, Karolyi led the 1996 U.S. women's team to its first gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. He has produced 28 Olympians, nine Olympic champions, 15 world champions, 12 European champions and six U.S. national champions in 30 years of coaching 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 Dominque Moceanu. Karolyi served as U.S. Olympic coach in Barcelona in 1992, where the U.S. captured its first medal in eight years. The team bronze was also the first time since 1948 that the U.S. had won an Olympic team medal in a non-boycotted Olympics.

He led the U.S. team to a silver medal finish at the 1991 World Championships-- the first team medal for the U.S. women in World Championships competition. His gymnast, Kim Zmeskal, also won the all-around title, a first for an American gymnast. Bela and his wife Martha (pronounced Marta) emigrated from Romania to the United States during an exhibition tour in New York City in 1981. The Karolyis landed coaching jobs in Oklahoma after working a series of menial jobs. Shortly thereafter, Karolyi was offered a coaching position at a private gym in Houston. In 1982, Karolyi convinced the club's owner to sell him the gym. Karolyi's World of Gymnastics was born.

The Karolyis enjoyed a lucrative and successful business, but retired from coaching in 1996. They sold their Houston gym and moved permanently to their 2,000-acre ranch adjacent to the Sam Houston National Forest north of Houston. The ranch was designated as the official national team training center in 2001. For the past 25 years, the ranch has been the site of Karolyi's Gymnastics Camp, a summer camp for gymnasts of all ages and skill levels.

Karolyi was born Sept. 13, 1942, in Cluj, Romania. The Karolyis have one grown daughter and two grandchildren. He co-authored a book, "Feel No Fear: The Power, Passion and Politics of a Life in Gymnastics," in 1996. He was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1997 and in 2000 he and Martha were inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. He and Martha are also members of the Texas Hall of Fame. He had a cameo role in the 2003 film, "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." Karolyi worked for NBC Sports as a gymnastics analyst at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Karolyi's interest in hunting has taken him to several continents including Africa, Europe, Australia and South America. He speaks Hungarian (his native tongue), Romanian, Russian, German and Spanish. A true cowboy at heart, he enjoys country music and western art.


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