Bela and Martha first bought 38 acres of the ranch in 1982. Bela had found the place when friends took him hunting in the forest. Over the years, as the old-time farmers and hunters moved on, Bela would buy bits and pieces.
With Martha having taken over the coaching duties, Bela has immersed himself in animals. His latest project is raising red deer, an animal more like a European elk, he said.
But Bela walks with a strut when he speaks about the ranch as it becomes the U.S. national training center, if only for a few days every month.
"So many struggles, so many fights to go through in order to create what we are very proud of now," he said. "It is a very American national system, a semi-central national training center. Now we are always ahead of the game."
Because girls have to come for only three or four days once a month, most of them can train with their coaches, live with their parents and attend high school. Last week, Johnson went to her prom and Ivana Hong, 15, did her homework between workouts.
The Karolyis bring to camp international judges and experts in the different disciplines. Martha speaks constantly to coaches and judges from around the world to gather concrete criticism and even bits of gossip about what is being said of her gymnasts.
Teams from Germany, Canada, Italy, Brazil and Colombia also are invited so that their coaches can learn techniques and so that friendly competitions can be held out of public view but with the pressure to perform in front of Martha.
Liukin, 18, has been coming since she was 11. Her father and coach, Valeri, badgered Martha into letting him bring his daughter when he was bringing other students.
"I thought it was so cool when I got to come the first time," the gymnast said. "I felt a little out of place at first. Most of the girls were 16, 17. But you prove yourself on the floor and you get included.
"We become a real team here. People bring DVDs. We rush out from dinner to watch 'Gossip Girl' and 'The Hills' and 'American Idol.' We talk about stuff, not gymnastics. Shawn was showing us pictures of her prom dress. It sounds not true but, honestly, we all like each other. We all have the same goals, to make the team and win medals, but we really aren't jealous."
There is a ranch lineage forming too. Kim Zmeskal-Burdette was coached by Bela and first came to the ranch in 1991, the year she became the first American to win the all-around world championship. Now 32 and the mother of two, she brought her first student to the ranch this session. Chelsea Davis, 15, is barely age-eligible for the Olympics and was mentioned by Martha Karolyi as a dark horse to sneak onto the Olympic team.
"I was so intimidated by the ranch the first time I came," Zmeskal-Burdette said. "It was just a big, scary place out in the middle of nowhere.
"Now I think it is the perfect system. Girls come here, learn what others are doing, go home and work on what they need."
Chellsie Memmel, 19, who won the world all-around title in 2005 and has struggled with injuries since, said she was skeptical at first about the ranch.
"I wasn't sure it would help me," she said. "Now I understand. It forces you to see what you need to do. Martha is a blunt person. She tells you the truth. You see other girls doing hard skills. I come here and realize I have to upgrade things. It's easy to get comfortable alone at home. Here, your comfort zone is gone. The girls are all good. And then you have to dodge the camels."