WASHINGTON -- Three leading Romanian gymnastic trainers -- including the coach of 1976 Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci -- have defected to the United States, the State Department said today.
Bela Karoly, 38, his wife, Marta, 38, and Geza Pozsar, 31, the top choreographer for the Romanian national gymnastics team, defected March 30 in New York while on tour of the United States with the Romanian women's gymnastics team.
An official said today the three defectors met with representatives of the Romanian Embassy at the State Department Tuesday to give formal notification of their decision. They filed with the U.S. Immigration and Naturlization Service for political asylum April 2.
Left behind in Romania were the Karolys' 7-year-old daughter and Pozar's wife and infant daughter. They asked the Romanian embassy officials to allow their families to join them in the United States, a request usually granted to defectors' families within a year.
The trainers said their decision to defect was prompted by their long dissatisfaction with the Romanian State Central Federation of Athletics. They said they could not tolerate chronic interference by the federation with their training methods, including those for Miss Comaneci.
'The state left us alone until we were really successful,' Karoly told the Washington Post. 'But once we produced a superstar, they wanted to take her away from us.'
Under Karoly's coaching at the 1976 games in Montreal, 14-year-old Miss Comaneci won five individual and team medals -- three gold, a silver and one bronze. She was an instant international success.
But the young star slipped in international competition in 1977 and 1978, which Karoly blamed on training interference by the sports federation.
A State Department official, who declined to be identified, said the three trainers complained to the Romanian representatives at Tuesday's meeting of the federation's role in their profession.
'Their defection is more a result of concern with the sports group than an ideological problem,' the official said. 'The political reasons are not so strong.'
The three trainers were to return home March 30 but failed to board a Romanian national airliner at New York's Kennedy airport.
They did not say goodbye. 'They were our girls, and we felt really sad,' Bela Karoly told the Washington Post.
The three said they hope to resume their careers in the United States.
Miss Comaneci recorded perfect scores of 10 on the balance beam and uneven parallel bars at the 1976 Olympics, the first perfect scores awarded in Olympic history.
Karoly and his wife discovered 7-year-old Nadia in a talent search across Romania. The children he selects leave their homes for training in Transylvania, and many stay through their teens.
Karoly is a powerfully built former discus and hammer thrower and handball player. His style of instruction has been compared to the late Green Bay Packers' football coach, Vince Lombardi, who was well known for his fiery demeanor.
Miss Comaneci -- who recorded perfect scores of '10' on the balance beam and uneven parallel bars at the 1976 Olympics -- participated in a tour of the U.S. last month, along with the entire women's national team from Romania.
The star-studded show, which also included two-time men's world champion Kurt Thomas and selected U.S. men's national team members, was billed as 'Nadia 81.'
In an interview with UPI during her stop in New York, Miss Comaneci denied rumors that her slide from gymnastic excellence between 1976 and 1978 were the result of uncontrolled weight gain and an indifferent attitude toward training. Rumors even surfaced that she had contemplated suicide and fallen into drug use.
Miss Comaneci flashed her old form by capturing the European title in May 1979 and by winning the World Cup a month later. Still, the growing pains persisted.
Karoly seemed to have trouble letting the gymnast grow up. Shortly before the world championships in Forth Worth, Texas, last year, Miss Comaneci moved with her family to Bucharest and began working with Nicolae Vieru, the secretary general of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and vice president of the international governing body.
Former champions and choreographers were also available to work with her, and she entered Bucharest University, studying physical education and languages. She has toned down her once flashy style, but she refused to attribute that to a change in thinking or coaching.
'Just because I change my routine doesn't mean I am changing my style,' the teen-ager told UPI last month. 'The technical aspect, the perfection is the same. If you want to be the top, you have to change something all the time. You have to do something new and different.
'Right now, it's not difficult for me to compete against the younger girls,' she said, quickly adding, 'but it was a hard time for me for awhile.'
Besides New York, the 'Nadia 81' show toured Hartford, Conn.; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Detroit and Philadelphia.