Gymnast, 17, sues to become legal adult Moceanu says parents took money, childhood

October 22, 1998|By HOUSTON CHRONICLE

HOUSTON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — HOUSTON -- In 1996, 14-year-old Dominique Moceanu showed an inner strength that belied her age by refusing to let a stress fracture keep her from competing in the Olympics Games in Atlanta.

But masked beneath her steely eyes, a different kind of stress was taking its toll.

The pressure of being driven by her parents to be an Olympic athlete since she was 3 years old finally got to Moceanu. On Monday, at age 17, she filed a lawsuit in state district court in Houston asking to be declared a legal adult so her parents would not have control over her -- or her money.

Moceanu's father, Dumitru Moceanu, according to the suit has squandered the money she has earned in her professional career, which started at age 10.

A judge signed a temporary restraining order Monday, saying her parents must stay away from Moceanu -- who ran away from her parents' north Harris County home Sunday -- until a hearing is conducted Nov. 11 on her requested adult status. An attorney was appointed by the court to represent her interests.

But in an interview Tuesday, Moceanu said the problem is about much more than money.

"I never had a childhood," Moceanu said sadly, a change from the intense confidence she normally projects from her 5-foot frame.

"When I went to compete when I was young, I always was in fear because I would get yelled at by my father, and I would say to myself, 'I'm 13 years old, come on,' " she said.

"Instead of talking to me, they're always yelling with me, fighting with me," she said.

Although such sentiments are probably those of any teen-ager, she said her life has been far from typical.

"It always had to be about the gym," Moceanu said about her relationship with her parents. "I would think, 'Don't you guys know anything besides gymnastics? Can't we go out for ice cream? Can't you be my mom and dad instead of me being your business?'

"Things have been getting rough for a while, a lot of people don't know," Moceanu said. "We've been trying to keep things hidden."

She said her father has hit her "a couple of times."

At a news conference yesterday, Moceanu's father pleaded for his daughter to come home.

"We love her very much," Dumitru Moceanu said, choking back tears. "And I hope she change her mind and come home, start training again."

Dominique Moceanu said her parents, who are Romanian immigrants, are very upset about what has happened.

Moceanu and her lawyer, Roy W. Moore, declined to say how much money she has made and how much they think has been lost. Her lawsuit said a trust that had been established for her is all but gone. Moceanu said her father has made some poor investments with the money.

"I kill myself training and going to school, and what is he doing with my money?" she said. "They haven't been working since 1996. Where does their income come from? Me."

Moore said her parents have refused to answer his client's questions about where her money has gone. He said all that she needs to prove to receive adult status is that she is living away from her parents and can support herself. Once she has the status, Moore said, Moceanu will be able to demand through legal channels to see an accounting of her money.

She said she has been "living like a fugitive" the last couple of days, moving from house to house to make sure her parents can't find her.

Moceanu, the only member of the 1996 U.S. gold medal women's gymnastics team still competing in all gymnastics events, said being away from her parents will help her focus on her training.

"I've been trying to block it out, but with school and everything I just didn't want this to affect me any more," she said.

She said she hopes to compete in the world championship games in China next year and possibly in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. But her plans to participate in a competition in Australia in two weeks may have to be scrapped, she said.

Moceanu said she reached her breaking point Saturday after her father angrily said he would fire her coach, Luminita Miscenco, 26, whom Moceanu credits with helping turn her career around. In August, Moceanu became the first non-Russian to win the all-around competition in the Goodwill Games.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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