Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu reflects on hardships after retirement

Olympian Dominique Moceanu On Gymnastics' 'Scarring' Body Image Issues
Olympian Dominique Moceanu On Gymnastics' 'Scarring' Body Image Issues

Twenty years ago, the Magnificent Seven, the U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team made history.

Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, and Jaycie Phelps were the first U.S. Olympic team to win gold.

While the legendary team enjoyed much fame and glory after their big win, with a documentary film about their journey, a subsequent press tour, Wheaties endorsement deal -- and a legacy that inspired generations of future U.S. Olympians -- not much has been said about the girls after the whirlwind of attention died down.

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Moceanu, who at 14 was the youngest gold medalist for U.S. Olympics (and still holds the honor), recently dished to AOL about the hardships of reacclimating into society as a former Olympian.

"That transition is really one of the most difficult parts of your post-elite life ... You've accomplished so much, so early, that regular life is almost like a letdown," she said. "You're also lightyears ahead mentally, emotionally when it comes to competition and discipline. I would look at my peers and there was a certain level of maturity I had that none of my peers had and they couldn't understand."

That discipline included 40-plus hours of training a week as a top athlete, as well as other factors we don't often think about. As Moceanu says, as an Olympian, your "whole identity" is shaped by the sport.

"Everything revolved around gymnastics. What you ate, when you slept, the physical therapy you did, taking care of your body, and then all of a sudden, it stops, and no one helps you with your transition," sh explained. "There is a period of time when every Olympic athlete, whether they admit it or not, goes through that post-Olympic weight gain because you're stopping eight hours of training every day and youre eating like a normal person."

Photos of Dominique Moceanu through the years:

Following a series of hardships, including filing for emancipation from her parents and discovering a long-lost sister, Moceanu found her place in the world and discovered the many roles she could fill besides just being an athlete -- including being a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a business owner and a New York Times bestselling author.

Now a mother of two, Moceanu is reliving the process with her son, Vincent, who is "showing major, major promise" in the "greatest sport in the world." It makes sense -- with an Olympian as a mom and a former Ohio State gymnast as a dad, he has the genes. But he also has the passion.

"He's absolutely going to be the future of men's gymnastics. He loves the sport so much," she gushed. "It's so wild to see his passion and his love and his drive. We know what it takes at that high level."

At 7 years old, he even has his sights on gold.

"He really thinks he could be better than me ... He's like, 'You only won one medal? I think I can win more.' I'm like, 'One's hard enough but you go for it.' "

While Vincent and his sister, Carmen, are just learning about their mom's impressive past, with "Olympic days" at school -- they might get a better idea this summer. Rio marks the 20th anniversary of the Magnificent Seven, which means a busy summer for Moceanu as she reunites with the entire team for the first time in many years at the Olympic trials .

"The more distance you get, the more you appreciate it -- in a different way," she said. "I did have some difficult challenges throughout my career and my familial situation, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity of competing for the United States on the Olympic team, at home, at the centennial Olympic games. Seeing how a lot of these current girls look up to us and our team ... That's something special that shows how impactful it was for the next generation."

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