Video: Another Karolyi leads

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/25/2004 4:07:01 PM ET 2004-08-25T20:07:01

In the wake of a less-than-perfect outing four years ago in Sydney, big changes were made in the U.S. women's gymnastic team. The team's leader still works in New Waverly, at the same training camp where previous champions have been made, but the woman currently leading the charge isn't the person you might expect.

Martha Karolyi is a drill instructor in a boot camp of tiny recruits, teenagers who are already veterans steeled in years of competition, but at heart just young, anxious girls. Now, however, it's all on the line.

"You must see your competition, look over your shoulder and say, 'I better brace up and try, do this better,’ explains Karolyi, the head coach and national team coordinator for the U.S. women’s gymnastic team.  "Because," she adds, "if not, then the next door little girl will do better."

Karolyi is crisp but never cruel as she sizes up physical and psychological strengths and flaws.

Every few weeks, two dozen or so elite from across the United States and their coaches gather for Martha's demanding training camp. Attendance is mandatory.

Martha runs the camp in the woods north of Houston, at a ranch she owns with her husband of 40 years. Maybe you've heard of him? Bela Karolyi.

Bela created dazzling pixies and transformed the sport with bearhugs and a flair for the dramatic. He was brought out of retirement to shape up the struggling 2000 U.S. women's team in Sydney, but they finished out of medal contention.

By consensus, the team coordinator job passed to Martha.

She was always there, from Nadia to Mary Lou to Kerri Strug, but standing in the shadows of her famous husband with the droopy moustache. Now it's her turn. She’s a silent partner no more. The Romanian defector, with a reputation as a cutthroat canasta player, now holds all the cards.

"She has that innate ability to recognize the one thing,” says president of USA Gymnastics Bob Colarossi. "It's all about the one thing that makes a difference in the routine that makes it successful."

After nearly 30 years as a coaching team, success in Athens depends on Martha, not Bela.

“I'm not striving for the spotlight,” Martha Karoly insists. “Even right now it's not, you know, on top of my wish list,” she says with a laugh.

But now that spotlight is on her and the team of six, culled by Martha, perhaps the deepest talent pool ever in American gymnastics.

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