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Some inside info on Chelle Stack

A reader who knows Chelle works through some of the rumors

And it makes me wonder how many rumors I’ve started, especially about The Three Stooges and Moceanu

I often don’t know what I’m talking about, at least where the details of the gymnastics world are concerned, but fortunately a reader does, at least where Chelle Stack is concerned.

I say all kinds of things that I can’t verify, and that’s one of the things that makes this site so interesting.  For example, I can’t prove that A-Suk sleeps around with whoever will have her; and I can’t prove that Nasty sleeps with her coach/boyfriend; and I can’t prove that dimwit Shawn and Moceanu are illiterate.  I just like to say it.

But a reader, Terri (screen name), found a story I wrote about Chelle Stack and Bela Karolyi and Chelle’s parents, etc., and she wanted to share some insight she has into that whole mess.  She is a friend of Chelle’s, so while that doesn’t make her an absolute authority on all things Chelle, it makes her a hell of a lot better source to get info from than me.

(I can probably give you better info than Terri can about fat people, Budweiser and peeing out second-floor windows, but I gladly defer when it comes to Chelle Stack.)

Terri wrote two long, informative comments, and, because I’m polite, I asked her if I could use her first comment here, and she said fine, so I figured using the second was okay, too.  So here’s what Terri had to say about Chelle Stack, verbatim, and with no editing or cute interjections from me.  I did, however, break it up into more paragraphs for ease of reading, and I did add some bold and italics, because those formats make it easier to follow a long document.

TERRI’S COMMENTS

Chelle, front row on the right, and the 1988 U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team.

Sarah, I’ve read a lot about Chelle and her relationship with Bela, and I also know Chelle and many of her friends. I apologize in advanced if this sounds like I am an apologist for Chelle but please be assured it is not. I am just an admirer and a friend (although not one of her closest friends) and just think Chelle, as well as her parents, have been unfairly characterized over the years.

Bela certainly never hit Chelle or anything like that (except maybe occasionally grabbed her like he did almost all of the other girls) but he definitely screamed at her a lot just like he did with a lot of the other girls. Chelle has always been very independently minded and feisty — it’s her natural personality, something no doubt she gets from her mom. She also knew her own body and when she needed at least a little time to take it easier and let her body recover from illness and injuries, and of course Bela doesn’t listen to anyone.

If Bela would kill a defenseless animal, what might he do to a gymnast?

The most difficult period for Chelle started sometime around her 17th birthday when she began to experience the first signs of puberty and naturally started to develop hips and boobs, grow a few inches in height, and put on a little weight. Bela always has had a hard time with girls when they hit puberty. Chelle always had a grudging respect for Bela though.

Chelle is most definitely not bitter or anything like that. Even when she was competing it was never fair to characterize her as a “disgruntled” gymnast. You cannot blame these girls or their parents for always wanting to make sure they are in a situation where the coach has confidence in them and is helping them to progress.

Their windows of opportunity are just so short. Bela has a history of losing interest in a girl very quickly if he suddenly thinks they are not going to win a medal for him at the Olympics or are not one of his “chosen” ones. Nonetheless, Chelle always tried to say nice things about Bela whenever they did part ways (which, by the way, was normally more Bela’s idea than Chelle’s or her parents). You can’t say Bela always returned the favor.

If Bela would marry a woman like this, what might he do to a gymnast?

When Chelle left Bela in May of 1989, she graciously said “Bela and I are parting on good terms” or something similar while Bela said something like “She isn’t focused and I suggested she leave.” When they parted ways again in April 1991, he said it was because he asked her to leave because she “hadn’t emerged from the storm of puberty.”

Here was this young almost 18 year old girl handling the situation with grace and dignity while Bela, who was in his fifties and with years of experience dealing with the media and should have known better, was making obnoxious and uncalled for comments,

Some of the unfair characterization of Chelle and especially her mom comes from the book “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.” The writer of that book did some good things by pointing out areas where reform is needed but she was also hell bent on portraying as many “horror” stories, tragedies, and supposedly disgruntled former gymnasts as possible, while virtually ignoring anything positive about the sport. She was stretching when she tried to portaryChelle a a “bitter, disgruntled former gymnast.”

There are a couple of pages in the book where she describes an interview she had with Chelle’s mother and father around 1994, a couple of years after Chelle had retired from elite gymnastics. Lifting quotes from the Stacks at random, she portrays both of her parents as uncaring people who forced Chelle into gymnastics against her will and in an attempt to cash in financially, and in fact were disillusioned because they had not in fact “cashed in.”

In fairness, some of this can be attributed to mom’s characteristic bluntness, but nonetheles I can go on and on how completely unfair this characterization is and simply doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider that at that very time of the interview Chelle was attending Oklahoma on a full ride athletic scholarship (she graduated in 1996), a fact the author conveniently failed to mention.

The presentation of her parents as people who sacrificed their child’s well-being simply to make money is ridiculous. The book went way over-the-top when, in an apparent attempt to portray Chelle as someone nearly crippled by her gymnastic training, said she had “toes so knarled she cannot even wear high-heels” and had “18 hairline fractures in her knee.” Again a ridiculous characterization when you consider she was competing for Oklahoma at that very time and later spent 3 years performing for the Cirque de Solei at Disney World.

Anyone who knows Chelle today is aware she is a very lovely, happy woman, very active physically, and anything but a physical or emotional basket case. She also recently got married. is helping raise a stepdaughter, and is very happy.

I don’t know Dominique Moceanu but if she is still bitter that is not the case with Chelle at all. Chelle has remained involved in gymnastics, she owned and operated her own gym for years (working with and nurturing a lot of young girls), and is a respected national and international gymnastics judge. She definitely loves her parents and is not bitter toward them. Chelle cherishes her gymnastics experience while acknowledging not everything was perfect, and valuable lessons were learned. She has even reconciled with the Karolyis.

That is the end of her first message.  I replied (it’s when I asked her if I could use her comment), and she wrote back again, and I’m pasting that below.

No problem Sarah, I wasn’t at all trying to criticize you but did want to say what I think is the truth about Chelle. She definitely has always had an independent personality and therefore “butted heads” with Bela to some extent. But that is one of the things in my opinion that made her so enduring and refreshing as compared to some the other gymnasts.

Karolyi's gym in Houston, where champions and troubled young girls are born.

Have you seen that wonderful, non-forced smile of hers when she performed well? (Take a look at YouTube in her performance on uneven bars at the 1988 U.S. Nationals). But it wasn’t necesforrily [?] the best for getting along with Bela who is definitely a “my way or the highway” type of guy. There absolutely was nothing sexual or anything like that between them (to the extent there is any such suggestion).

Bela’s main problem was that he followed the old Eastern Bloc approach to training gymnasts, which was work them to death without any understanding of proper nutrition or modern techniques to avoid injury, and with little concern (or at least understanding) of how to deal properly with the fragile personalities of these beautiful and wonderful young girls. Bela did produce champions though. My purpose here is not to criticize Bela — he has many positives but the truth is the truth on his negatives.

I will say that Chelle’s mom Carrol has brought some of this criticism on herself because she is very vocal and blunt, and that includes her descriptions of her own thoughts and actions during this period. Have you read the “Unfinished Biography of Chelle Stack” that is floating out there on the Internet? It definitely looks like something Carrol wrote, and it finishes up just prior to the 1988 Olympics, so it really only goes through about the first half of Chelle’s elite gymnastics career.

In it Carrol is very blunt in her criticisms of the Karolyis, Rick Newman (one of Karolyi’s coaches at the time), and some of the other gym moms. However, she is very honest and critical about her own actions and thoughts, and admits she fell into the gym mom trap. She admits that when Chelle told her she wanted to quit 3 months before the Olympic trials she said something like, “Over my dead body. I’ve got too much invested in you.”

However, while that may have not been the most diplomatic way of saying things to a young girl, it was in fact the right thing to do. What young girl or boy hasn’t wanted to quit something tough at some point, and would have if the adults in his or her life had let him or her do so?

I can guarantee you that Chelle is thankful her mom (and dad) did not let her quit at that point. She wound up making the 1988 Olympic team and, while the entire team’s performance was a little disappointing that year, she will always be an Olympian. Chelle has had a wonderful career that is in large part attributable to the fact that she was an elite gymnast and made the 1988 Olympic team.

She also became a very fine gymnast and incredible athlete, and she has a large circle of good friends. Knowing Chelle I am sure she would have a large circle of friends and wonderful life even had she never been involved in gymnastics, but they certainly would not be the same circle of friends or experiences, Chelle will be the first to tell you that she is glad she did it, notwithstanding the bumps and frustrations along the road.

Despite what some might think, I believe Carol and her husband Frank had the best interests of Chelle at heart even though as they will admit they were not perfect. They certainly made tremendous sacrifices, financial and otherwise, so that Chelle could fulfill her dream of becoming an Olympian and doing the absolutely best she could afterwards. Chelle greatly appreciates them as well as the many other people that supported her along the way and, yes, that even includes the Karolyis to some extent.

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And that’s the whole thing from Terri.  I hope you guys learned a few things from an “insider” perspective.  I’m not going to make any comments about all this here, but I might do another story with some of my own ideas and opinions.  For the moment, I have a forest fire getting ready to erupt up in San Jose.

Sarah!

BONUS POINTS

I’m pretty sure this is the Chelle biography that Terri referred to.

Here are Chelle’s competitive results and an “official” bio.

Chelle’s acceptance speech when she was inducted into the USAG Hall of Fame Like Terri said, Chelle here has only good things to say about Bela and Marta, and they really didn’t do all that much for her.  They made Moceanu a goddamn Olympic gold-medalist, and Dom’s still breathing fire against them.

1988 U.S. Nationals, bars

 

1988 Olympics, compulsory beam – first up and she did a great job

 

1988 McDonald’s American Cup, floor – the only girl who had ANY sign of life on the 1988-era U.S. team

1988 Mixed Pairs International, vaultdefinitely the only girl who had signs of life in this fractured era