For nearly four decades, as athletes came and went, there was one constant presence in Olympic gymnastics: Bela and Martha Karolyi. The coaching duo broke onto the world stage in 1976, when their 14-year-old gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, scored the first perfect 10 in Olympic history. Five years later, the couple defected from communist Romania to the United States, where they were determined to once again climb to the top of their sport. They delivered the U.S. 46 Olympic medals during their 32-year reign. And in return for their success, they were granted unprecedented power, and they became more recognizable characters than many of their gymnasts.
The Karolyis brought women's gymnastics in America to the top of the world stage, but they also played a part in enabling its greatest tragedy. In 2016, their accomplishments came under fire as the extent of Larry Nassar's predatory sexual abuse was exposed. As questions about the Karolyis' accountability rose, so did questions about when coaching crosses the line between tough and abusive -- and why it took so long to examine the famous duo's legacy.
Now, 30 for 30 Podcasts, in association with espnW, presents "Heavy Medals: Inside the Karolyi Gymnastics Empire," a podcast reported by Bonnie D. Ford and Alyssa Roenigk. The seven-part series dives into the lives and influence of Bela and Martha Karolyi, the most successful coaches in the sport's history -- and the most controversial.
Listen to 'Heavy Medals'
"Heavy Medals" is available now for fans to binge-listen. The episode lineup is:
Episode 1: 'Made in Romania'
In the middle of the Cold War, Romanian gymnastics coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi turn Nadia Comaneci, a 14-year-old gymnast from a communist country, into a global symbol of excellence at the 1976 Olympics when she scores the first perfect 10. But Romania becomes too controlled for Bela's ambitions, and the Karolyis set their sights on the freedom of the United States.
Episode 2: 'American Hustle'
The Karolyis begin to build their gymnastics empire in the U.S. But they need a champion. Enter Mary Lou Retton, whose perfect 10 at the 1984 Olympics will make her and her coach household names -- and explode the popularity of gymnastics across the country. Now, Bela needs to harness that gold-medal success to advance his own cause.
Episode 3: 'The Bela Show'
Growing his image as the most well-known coach in gymnastics, Bela aims for more gold medals. But after disappointment at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Bela announces he is stepping away from elite-level gymnastics, and he retreats to his ranch in Texas. But even after stepping out of the spotlight, Bela remains in focus, as accusations of abuse grow against the coach.
Episode 4: 'Home Games'
Pulled back onto the world gymnastics stage by the precocious talent of their newest protégée, Dominique Moceanu, Bela and Martha are all in on winning gold at the Atlanta Games. But when Dominique falls on vault, everything rides on the shoulders of Bela's long-overshadowed veteran, Kerri Strug, to bring home the gold.
Episode 5: 'The Karolyi Way'
After the glory of gold in Atlanta, the U.S. national team slips on the world stage. With the next Olympics less than a year away, USA Gymnastics turns to the one person it thinks can save the team: Bela Karolyi. But on such a tight schedule, will the "You can do it!" motivator-in-chief be able to lead a team to victory?
Episode 6: 'The Rise of Martha'
For years, Martha Karolyi avoided the spotlight. But when she is tapped to take over the national team, Martha finally comes into full view. She aims to prove that she can turn the United States into a dominant force in gymnastics. But under Martha's regime, injured athletes are often discarded and a culture of silence prevails.
Episode 7: 'The Unraveling'
As Martha is taking her final victory lap at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the gymnastics community is rocked by a scandal that will shock the world. The Karolyis' legacy is called into question as the gymnasts grapple with the cost of what it took to earn all that gold.